PUERTO PRINCESA CITY – Is the island paradise called Palawan ready to be divided into three provinces?

At press time, residents seem to be divided on the proposal endorsed by Congress seeking to make the lone province of Palawan into three provinces.

For one, the Save Palawan Movement oppose the division, stating: ‘The division of Palawan is not the appropriate answer to the existing weak governance, corruption, and natural resource use issues in the province.”

Cynthia del Rosario, Save Palawan Movement spokesperson,  pointed out that the taxpayers would bear the cost of creating these provinces.

“The huge costs entailed in creating provinces, as well as holding a plebiscite, will be shouldered by taxpayers’ money. This is unnecessary because the Palaweños did not ask for the division in the first place,” Del Rosario added.

Del Rosario claimed that the “railroaded” House Bill 8055, which the House of Representatives approved in August, reached the Senate “without undergoing prior public consultation.”

“Such consultation will show that there was no true clamor from the people; rather, it was a plan conceived by a handful of local politicians,” Del Rosario said.

Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez, the provincial board members, and the three Palawan congressmen, on the other hand, stood firm on their proposal to divide the province.

Alvarez had said that dividing Palawan into three provinces would speed up the delivery of basic services to residents and further boost the provincial economy.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chairman of the Senate committee on local government, endorsed the bill and the Senate eventually approved it.

Angara  stressed in a social media post that the bill which was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte, was “not motivated by partisan political concerns, nor a gerrymandering exercise,” but was fitting since Palawan is the biggest province in the Philippines in terms of area.

The proposed provinces are Palawan del Norte (Northern Palawan), Palawan Oriental (Central Palawan), and Palawan del Sur (Southern Palawan), with Taytay, Roxas, and Brooke’s Point as their capitals, respectively.

Palawan del Norte will have Coron, Culion, Busuanga, Linapacan, Taytay (capital town) and El Nido.

Palawan Oriental will cover Roxas (capital town), Araceli, Dumaran, Cuyo, Agutaya, Magsaysay, Cagayancillo, and San Vicente.

Palawan del Sur will have Aborlan, Narra, Quezon, Rizal, Sofronio Española, and Brooke’s Point (capital town), Bataraza, Balabac, and Kalayaan.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) assured that it will implement the decision of the people of Palawan regarding the proposed division of their province into three provinces through a plebiscite next month.

The Palawan plebiscite period started last week and will run until March 20, which means a gun ban is already in effect in the province. The campaign period for the referendum will run until March 11, 2021.
Republic Act 11259, calls for the creation of Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur through a plebiscite, Comelec chair Sheriff Abas said.

“We would like to assure everyone that the Comelec will be nonpartisan in this plebiscite. We will implement whatever decision of the voters with respect to the plebiscite, whether they will ratify or reject the partition of the province of Palawan,” Comelec Commissioner Antonio Kho said.

He said the Comelec will have no position with regards to the plebiscite.

“I would like to assure everyone that the Comelec, in holding this plebiscite, will be nonpartisan. We have no position whether we agree or disagree with this plebiscite. We will just implement the decision of the voters,” Kho said.

Kho also said there is no conflict of interest with the provincial government’s move to fund the plebiscite, where it is campaigning for “Yes” votes.

“With respect to funding of plebiscite, under the law, it is the LGU of Palawan that will shoulder the cost of the plebiscite. They are providing the Comelec the budget necessary for the plebiscite. So I don’t see any conflict of interest in this situation because it is provided for by law,” he said.

The voter will be asked to write “Yes” or “Oo” if they favor the split and “No” or “Hindi” if they are not in favor on the question, “Pumapayag ka ba na hatiin ang probinsya ng Palawan sa tatlong probinsya na papangalanang: Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental at Palawan del Sur alinsunod sa Batas Republika bilang 11259? (Are you in favor of the division of the province of Palawan into three separate provinces: Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental and Palawan del Sur pursuant to Republic Act 11259?)”.

The Comelec originally set the plebiscite to ratify the division of the province of Palawan into three provinces on the second week of May 2020 but it was moved to March this year, due to quarantine restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.