Proponents of Save Palawan Movement file a petition to nullify RA No. 11259 (An Act Dividing the Province of Palawan Into Three Provinces) for being unconstitutional. (Photo Courtesy of Save Palawan Movement)

A petition to nullify Republic Act 11259 creating three Palawan provinces was filed Wednesday morning before the Supreme Court (SC) by the One Palawan (OP) and Save Palawan Movement (SPM).

Petitioners Cynthia Del Rosario, Federico Virgo Jr., Renato Baladad, Beatriz Dioso, Corazon Davila, Loreta Alsa, Hiya Hassan, and John Vincent Colili claimed that RA 11259 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte is “unconstitutional”.

Atty. Grizelda Mayo-Anda, one of the two groups’ convenors, told Palawan News in an interview that their main aim is for the Act to be declared “null and void”, but said they have no control over the “justice system”.

“Sa gayon ayaw ko mag-presume. Ang masasabi lang namin is we have reasonable constitutional grounds and legal naman ‘yong basis natin nasa Saligang Batas ‘yon, so sa usapin ng batas, ang batas ay nasa panig natin. Pero alam naman natin na ang magpapasya niyan ay ang Mataas na Hukuman… let us hope na ma-appreciate ‘yong arguments natin ng Supreme Court,” said Anda.

RA 11259 was signed into law by Duterte on April 5, 2019, which creates the three provinces of Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur.

The petition was filed against four respondents, namely the Provincial Government of Palawan, the Provincial Treasurer, Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

Petitioners’ assertions

In their petition, the eight argued that RA 11259 is “unconstitutional”, asserting that starting from its inception until its deliberation in Congress, no public consultations were conducted that involved Palawan stakeholders.

In a press statement of both movements, they claimed there were no public hearings that sought and consulted Palawan “fisherfolks, indigenous peoples, farmers, youth, academic institutions, and women and people’s organizations” prior to the passage of the bill in Congress.

The 28-page petition also pointed out that Section 54 of RA 11259 violated the provisions under the Philippine Constitution on the people’s right to vote in a plebiscite on the affairs “directly affecting them” as it “purposely” disqualified residents of Puerto Princesa City from casting their votes in its May 2020 plebiscite despite being directly affected.

Aside from Section 54 that violated the right of Puerto Princesans to “participation and information”, they also pointed out that Section 11 of the Act also altered the Local Government Code or Republic Act 7160 on the sharing of natural wealth.

Provided under Section 292 of RA 7160, the sharing of natural wealth is divided into 20 percent for the province, 45 percent for the municipality, and 35 percent for the barangay.

However, in RA 11259 this sharing was alleged to be “substantially altered”, where the province gets the highest share of 60 percent, while the shares of municipalities and barangays were reduced to 24 and 16 percent respectively, violating Article 10 of the Philippine Constitution.

Palawan government’s response

Governor Jose Chavez Alvarez, the leading respondent of the provincial government told Palawan News in a separate interview that they will still continue on making the law “come into fruition” in the province despite the petition.

“Kung iyon [ang] paniwala nila na tama sila, kami [ang] paniwala namin [ay] mas tama kami kaya tuloy lang kami hanggang walang prohibition ang Supreme Court (SC),” Alvarez said.

Alvarez also noted only the SC could determine the fate and outcome of this petition.

Meanwhile, provincial legal officer Atty. Teodoro Jose Matta, in a text message, said that they are going to study the concerns raised by the petitioners and assured they will respond according to the decision of the higher court.

“We are aware of the fact that certain persons have filed an action before the Supreme Court. The Provincial Government will study the matter carefully and respond accordingly – depending on how the Supreme Court will treat the said action,” said Matta.

Matta said they believe that RA 11259 does not violate any provision of the Philippine Constitution and is “valid, and legally and morally sound”.

“At any rate, these matters are now sub-judice,” he pointed out.

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