The Save Palawan Movement (SPM) has filed a new motion before the Supreme Court (SC) for preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (TRO) in connection with the first petition declaring Republic Act 11259 to divide the province into three smaller government units “unconstitutional”.

The petitioners are Cynthia Sumagaysay, Federico Virgo, Renato Baladad, Beatriz Dioso, Corazon Davila, Loreta Alsa, Hiya Hassan, and John Vincent Colili. They filed a motion and manifestation on May 8 through Atty. Julius Conception.

Sumagaysay said that the plebiscite is not a “priority” during the pandemic following the announcement of Governor Jose Chaves Alvarez that it will possibly push through in July.

“It became necessary to file the motion because of the current situation. We have been hearing the governor suggesting that the plebiscite can be done by the end of July. To a lot of people in Palawan, it sounded selfish and insensitive due to the current health and economic crises,” Sumagay said.

“The plebiscite is not a priority, curbing the COVID-19 pandemic and commencing our country’s total recovery from its impacts are the priorities,” she added.

In June 2019, SPM filed a petition and asked the SC to declare RA 11259 creating Palawan Oriental, Palawan Del Norte, and Palawan Del Sur as unconstitutional. The SC then asked the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to submit its comment regarding the petition.

In January this year, the petitioner received a comment from the provincial government and declared the petition dismissed. The COMELEC Solicitor General and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) also gave their comments.

Petitioners said that the circumstances show that equally important for granting the Writ of Preliminary Injunction or TRO is the existence of public health emergency brought by COVID-19.

The SC has not yet directed the two parties to submit their responses.

“Ang sa amin kasi, ang mahalagang argument dito ay magkaroon ng indifenite suspension ang plebisito. Sa sitwasyon ngayon na may COVID ay hindi kami makakalabas dahil bawal pa ang mass gathering. Para maging patas sana ang kampanya, ‘yon ang hindi nila naiintindihan, saan ang democracy doon?,” SPM legal adviser Atty. Grizelda Anda said.

Earlier in November 2019, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 10620 or the calendar of activities for the plebiscite scheduled on May 11 which was suspended on April 7 due to COVID-19.

The petitioners claimed that the current situation may further prevent the citizens and voters of Palawan from undertaking necessary preparatory actions in connection with the plebiscite.

Further, they also said that P80 million allocated by the provincial government can be used to provide assistance to Palaweños during the crisis.

They also said that the province has a provincial hospital, and its capacity to deal with any rise in COVID-19 cases is unclear. To date, the province still needs to conduct testing, establish quarantine facilities, and reliable health care system.

“Hindi ba may allocation sila na P80 million para dito, bakit hindi nalang nila ibigay sa tao? Marami pa ang nagsasabi na hindi sila nakakatanggap kaya sana ginamit nalang nila para makatulong sa tayo ngayong may COVID-19,” Anda added.

Provincial information officer (PIO) Winston Arzaga said in a separate interview that they will answer immediately if the Supreme Court asks for their comment.

He said that they respect the right of petitioners to file a TRO.

“We respect them [dahil] karapatan nila ‘yon. Kung sa tingin nila ay makakatulong ‘yong [filing of petition] sa kanila ay walang problem. We will answer immediately kung kinakailangan,” Arzaga said.

Arzaga also emphasized that the P80 million had already been allocated for the plebiscite and cannot be transferred for other purposes.

He said that the provincial government has a different allocation for the disaster response.

“Naka-allocate talaga ‘yon para sa plebisito at hindi namin pwede galawin ‘yon. Isa pa nandoon na ang budget sa COMELEC. May pera ang probinsya para dito mga programa at assistance para sa COVID-19,” Arzaga added.