(This report is part 3 of a 7-part series that highlights key stories and events in Palawan and Puerto Princesa City throughout the year 2021)
The defining political event of 2021 was the plebiscite in March to determine the fate of Republic Act No. 11259, which sought to divide Palawan into three separate provinces—Palawan Del Norte, Palawan Del Sur, and Palawan Oriental.
Dubbed 3-in-1 Palawan by its proponents, the initiative was the first of several similar undertakings by past administrations to actually be put to a vote.
The law was not only passed by Congress in record fashion, but was also endorsed by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte and numerous other national leaders. RA 11259 was signed into law on April 5, 2019, but required a favorable plebiscite vote to take effect.
Its proponents argued that the law was needed to more effectively manage an otherwise large province in terms of land mass and speed up development. Its critics, primarily local civil society groups, claimed it to be a form of gerrymandering, and said it was done without the benefit of proper local consultations.
With little resources to campaign, civic groups, including the Catholic church in northern Palawan, mounted a campaign for a “No” vote, utilizing mainly social media platforms as its medium. The One Palawan movement was started on Facebook as early as October 14, 2018.
One Palawan also tried to challenge the constitutionality of the law before the Supreme Court but got no favorable decision, and the plebiscite was set for March 13, 2021.
“It was a David and Goliath fight. They have the money to orchestrate a mass campaign. We have nothing. We only knew that there was a huge task in front of us and we needed to do what had to be done,” Cynthia Sumagaysay–Del Rosario, lead campaigner of One Palawan, recalled.
“’Yong 3-in-1 mas traditional ang campaign nila kasi may pondo sila para pumunta sa iba’t ibang munisipyo. Pero since pandemic, nasa bahay lang ang mga tao, we mostly communicated through social media. Mas malakas kami sa social media,” she added.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay, with 22 parish churches stretched in 12 northern Palawan municipalities, joined the One Palawan Movement’s call and actively participated in the campaign, urging the voters to vote “no”, pointing out that “the law was mostly due to personal and vested political interests, and not to pave the way for genuine human development.”
The outcome of the plebiscite vote was unexpected even by many of the 3-in-1 critics and supporters. As the vote count ended on March 16, only four of the province’s 23 towns voted “Yes,” while the rest rejected it with close margins. In total, 172,304 voted “No” while 122,223 voted “Yes” to the proposed division of Palawan.
The defeat of the 3-in-1 proposal has set the tone for the upcoming regular elections in May 2022 and even emboldened One Palawan groups to field candidates in the electoral process.
“Civil society in Palawan normally limits itself to voter education during elections, but this time there was a consensus in the group that it should carry forward its advocacies to the electoral process,” lawyer Gerthie Anda told Palawan News.
(Next: Palawan’s power woes and energy debate)