Candidates for key provincial and city positions in the upcoming elections presented their respective platforms during the recently concluded 2-part #MagkaalamanNa2022 forums presented by Palawan News (PN) and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), and co-presented by Lente, PPCRV, JCI Puerto Princesa Peacock, Inc., G-Watch, and the Palawan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc.
The forums were held on April 2 and 9 at the Holiday Suites Palawan, where candidates for key positions in the city government and the provincial government took turns expounding on their policy agenda and responding to questions from an independent panel.
Only two out of six gubernatorial candidates participated in the forum, despite an invitation extended to all of them.
Former board member Arthur Ventura, whose candidacy is being backed by several civil society groups that led last year’s campaign to block a proposed division of Palawan, vowed to zero in on corruption and good governance.
Ventura outlined his policy platform, which includes opposition to the expansion of mining activities in Palawan. He stated he doesn’t subscribe to the concept of “sustainable mining” and vowed to oppose it in the province.
“I don’t believe in sustainable mining. Walang implementasyong maganda, kailangan natin ng tapang upang labanan ang pagmimina,” Ventura said.
Ventura also said that the government should encourage tourism investments in the province to upgrade the industry, primarily be easing permitting requirements. He said this should include the development of tourism destinations and promotion.
“I-programa natin ang Palawan sa pamamagitan ng environmental tourism, ipakita na maganda ang ating environment. Pag-isipan at pag-aralan kung paano maibaba ang transportation cost [ng mga pupunta dito sa Palawan],” Ventura said.
Responding to panel questions, Ventura also vowed to fight government corruption.
Another independent candidate, Richard Lopez, said his administration will emulate that of former governor Salvador Socrates in the mid-90s, which put emphasis on environmental protection.
“Ipinagpapatuloy ko ang pananaw ng dating gobernador natin that as far as the Palawan environment is concerned, it is absolute that there is no compromise [and] is not negotiable,” Lopez said.
Lopez vowed to provide technical assistance to businesses, including marketing, in order to improve the local economy.
“Tingin ko mas kailangan pang palakasin ang marketing at technical assistance para sa mga business [establishments dito] ng sa ganon ay mas matulungan pa sila,” he said.
Atty. Gil Acosta, Jr., running for re-election in the 3rd Congressional District, vowed to focus on developing the western coast, citing its economic potential. He said that infrastructure projects needed to be undertaken to strengthen the agriculture sector as well.
He vowed to work on legislation that will prompt the national government to include in the budgetary appropriation funding that will help small and medium enterprises.
Responding to a panelist’s question about his vote denying the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise by Congress, Acosta said he may “take a second look” at the issue if it is brought up again.
“Definitely, there is debate about whether there are violations. The problem is tax avoidance. It depends on how ABS-CBN defends itself on the issue,” he said.
Atty. Pen Cascolan, who is gunning for the seat of the 2nd Congressional District, was the sole candidate in the district to attend the forum. Among those who did not attend were Governor Jose Alvarez and incumbent congresswoman Cyrille Abueg-Zaldivar.
Cascolan expressed his sentiments against mining in southern Palawan, vowing to push for a moratorium on new mining projects in the district.
“Maglalagay tayo ng moratorium on mining permits in Palawan para ng sa ganon [ay hindi na madagdagan] kasi tadtad na tayo ng mina,” he said.
He also promised to work for the development of the tourism sector, but countered Gov. Jose Alvarez’s push to develop Balabac as a major destination. He said that security concerns remain an issue in the area and proposed that Narra should instead be given more attention.
“The opening of Balabac to the neighboring nations for direct access of international tourists ay hindi handa. Ang south po, ang Narra tadtad tayo ng falls and natural bodies of water, ay we would like to open it up,” he said.
Out of nine candidates running for the mayoral position, those who joined the forum were Florante Antazo, incumbent councilor Atty. Jimbo Maristela, Edgardo Martinez, and Pastor Romeo Nuñez.
Jimbo Maristela, the Liberal Party candidate for the city mayoralty, presented his 5K program (Kabuhayan, Kalusugan, Karunungan, Kalikasan, and Katarungan) as the centerpiece of his administration.
He also vowed to reduce business taxes and find ways to help the sector through incentives and measures that would speed up the transaction processes at City Hall.
Maristela believes that environmental protection must be prioritized in supporting the tourism industry. He said that the city government must allocate sufficient funds for livelihood programs in the time period when many restrictions will be implemented again.
He noted that the city government still has a P10 million unutilized fund for livelihood. If elected, he said the budget will be increased to support the livelihood of tourism workers in the absence of tourists.
He also questioned the utilization of the P5.3 million budget for 2022 under the current administration, claiming there were anomalies in the implementation of the drainage master plan within the areas of establishments to be constructed.
Florante Antazo, an independent mayoral candidate, promised measures that will prompt the downgrading of the city’s alert level to zero, saying this will help speed up its economic recovery.
He vowed to focus on developing tourist attractions within the city to encourage visitors to stay instead of simply using the city as a jump-off point to other destinations in the province.
He promised to improve the city’s road infrastructure, including its drainage systems and asserted that the current problems are brought about by corruption.
He also wants to provide free internet connectivity in schools and in remote barangays.
Edgardo Martinez, also an independent mayoralty candidate, vowed to improve the business climate in the city through measures that will ease compliance with permitting and other requirements and doing away with “backers” in getting things done at City Hall.
He also plans to unveil an assistance package for tourism workers, including free hospitalization.
Martinez also criticized the current condition of the city’s drainage and waste treatment facilities, vowing to improve them.
Citing his background in information technology, Martinez said there is a need to provide free connectivity, especially in schools.
“Pinaka-best na solution ko is mabigyan natin sila ng pansin to enhance the capacity and capability ng mga estudyante in the future kasi sila ang sinasabi na pag-asa ng bayan. Bigyan natin sila ng pansin, marami tayong pwedeng gawin para sa kanilang kinabukasan,” he said.
The city councilor aspirants who participated in the forum included Nenelia Aguirre, Arnold Biton, Gabriel Bonete, Ching Cuyos, Delson Gaspar, Cesar Javarez, Renante Paigma, Atty. Louchie Palanca, Barry Sumpio, Lyka Ańasco, Jean Lou Aguilar, and Emmanuel Oczon.
Provincial Board Member candidates
On the same day, three provincial board member candidates, David Dalag of the 1st District, Elmer Gregorio of the 2nd District, and Kors Badilla of the 3rd District, were elected.
Dalag also emphasized the importance of sexual education to address teenage pregnancy and HIV cases in the province.
“May existing ng programa para sa early pregnancy, kailangan lang iimplement ang sex education. Pwedeng gumawa ng resolution para mapatibay pa ang mga programa sa kababihan at kabataan,” he said.
Gregorio also said he will explore possible free load to the students to support their education through a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Education and Telecommunication companies.
“Pagbibigay ng sustento para sa pangload sa telco para sila ang magload sa estudyante,” he said.
Badilla said that the distribution of assistance should be equal for all, such as relief assistance and financial assistance.
“Isulong ang pantay-pantay na pagtulong para hindi pili lang ang nabibigyan. Bibigyan na lang lahat, bahay bahayin ang concerned people,” he said.
Three candidates also expressed opposition to irresponsible mining, and with the existence of environmental laws, the government should strengthen these to ensure the protection of the environment.