Vice Governor Dennis Socrates believes that Palawan needs to be “urbanized” in order for its economy to recover from the pandemic.
“We really have to urbanize. There has to be some way of bringing in investors, bringing in more people, improving our facilities ano. Yong ating mga kalsada. People who live in urban areas are more economically productive. Of course, we need agriculture because we need food security, pero ang proportion now, 20% agriculture, and 80% urban,” the vice governor told the The Profile.
“Sa atin baligtad — 80% rural, 20% lang yong ating urban, so hindi masyadong economically productive,” he added.
His explanation is in response to a question regarding why the province’s poverty incidence rate has stayed high at 50%, despite dropping from over 60% in previous years.
Socrates further said Palawan’s poverty rate is “intuitive”, or based on what one feels to be true.
He noted that the province’s arable lands are very limited, and it’s possible that the perception that it has abundant resources is being “exaggerated.”
“Unang-una, I’d like to consider na maybe we are exaggerating the idea na super abundant tayo sa resources. Hindi naman talaga tayo abundant sa resources because our arable land is relatively small. It’s a small percentage of our total land area kasi ang kalakihan ng land area natin bundok, konti lang yong patag area natin na puwedeng sakahin,” he said.
On top of this, he said agriculturists have established that soils in the province are acidic and are not fertile.
“Yong agriculture talaga kailangang pagtuunan ng pansin. Hindi lahat kailangang maging magsasaka, kasi habang mas marami ang production, mababa naman ang presyo. Kawawa yong farmers kasi kapag maganda yong ani nilang lahat, mababa yong presyo,” Socrates said.
Tourism and environment
Socrates said that in northern Palawan, where tourism is the main industry, facilities and other infrastructures must be in place to meet the needs of travelers and visitors.
He said the paradigm shouldn’t be forest, but garden. “Oo, nga, andyan ang kagubatan pero kung hindi natin isaayos yan, hindi natin lagyan ng magandang hotel, lagyan ng kalsada, wala tayong kikitain dyan. So, kailangan lalong linangin in a way that will not destroy, but will enhance”.
Concerning pro-environment organizations critical of the concept, Socrates said that they are not enemies and that it is incorrect to assume that they are anti-development simply because they care about the environment.
The main thing, he stressed, is to be open and talk to them so that all points can come together “for the greater good.”
Socrates said from the start, his politics is all bringing the message of good government. By “good government,” he implies “correct administration through adherence to the rule of law.”
“Government should operate according to law, not according to the whims or caprices of the… kung sino man yong namumuno,” he said.
Transparency and accountability will be part of his leadership if he is elected in May, he said, because people have a right to know what is going on and he has an obligation to bear responsibility.
Badong, his political influence
Socrates said his decision to enter politics was motivated by his father, late Palawan governor Salvador “Badong” Socrates’ leadership.
“Halos buong buhay ko ay pulitika. Ang tatay ko was already a politician noong ako ay pinanganak. I was two years old when my father ran for vice governor. Hindi siya umalis sa pulitika, all his life. He was also a lawyer, a father, a family man, pero more than anything else, he was a politician,” the vice governor said.
“Ang aking exposure sa buhay, ang realidad na aking kinagisnan, ay pulitika. I’ve been immersed in politics. Looking back, the realization may be came late, I tried to resist the call to enter politics pero andoon ako,” he added.
Socrates explained that his background as a lawyer did not make it difficult for him to transition to politics because the two are practically identical.
Initially, he merely wanted to practice his law profession, but his exposure to and connection with his father Badong led him to politics, eventually becoming a candidate himself.
“When my father was running for reelection for governor in 1998, it so happened na wala siyang kandidato para [sa] mayor ng Puerto, and at that time, I was a practicing lawyer in Puerto Princesa, I was a law professor already, but I thought I had to volunteer to run for mayor para may kandidatong mayor ang tatay ko noon sa Puerto Princesa,” he said.
He was under pressure at the time, but he clarified that it was due to circumstances, and he really volunteered.
Socrates was eventually elected as mayor of the city in 2001.
“Yong tatay ko hindi mahilig mag-lecture. Hindi siya teacher; my mother was the teacher. My father was a quiet guy, but just being with him, you get to learn a lot of things. Hindi pinag-uusapan, hindi niya sinasabi, pero nakikita mo just by being there,” he said.
He acknowledged that his political education began when he began assisting his father’s campaigns as a member of his core group and “war room.”
Socrates thought his political career was over when Hagedorn defeated him in a recall election in 2002. Despite his disappointment, he recognized he couldn’t really leave and ran again in 2004.
“We had to run in 2004, although ang chances of winning was a very long shot. Sabi ko talagang wala na ako, okay na, happy na ako,” he said.
JCA, Doc Gerry Ortega in 2009
“Until JCA came in 2009 fresh from the business sector. Nagyayaya, naghahanap ng kasama. Matagal na usapan, ang aming go-between was Dr. Gerry Ortega,” Socrates said.
Ortega, who was Socrates’s friend and candidate for governor in 2004, brought him then to governor Jose Ch. Alvarez.
“I didn’t agree immediately to join him kasi hindi ko naman talaga siya kilala,” he said. Over the course of their meetings, Alvarez would talk about his visions for Palawan, looking like someone who could achieve what he wanted.
Socrates eventually agreed to be his running mate. “May vision siya for Palawan, and he looked like someone, he sound like someone who could achieve what he wants to achieve. So, eventually, I agreed and hindi ako nagsisisi”. (with reports from Aira Genesa Magdayao)