MANILA - Some residents of Palawan are studying legal remedies to halt the implementation of a law dividing the island into 3 smaller provinces, a leader of an advocacy group said Monday.
The constitutional right of the residents of Puerto Princesa City, the current capital of Palawan, has been violated in exempting them from the 2020 plebiscite, said Cynthia Del Rosario, leader of One Palawan campaign.
"As a political unit directly affected, we should be included in the plebiscite...It runs contrary to the 1987 Constitution. It’s unconstitutional," Del Rosario told Early Edition.
President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a law dividing the western Luzon tourist haven into Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental and Palawan del Sur. The creation of the new provinces would require a plebiscite to be held on the second Monday of May 2020.
Under the law, Puerto Princesa City shall have its own legislative district by the same year. Its residents shall not be qualified to vote in the 2020 plebiscite and for candidates in the provincial elective positions.
Incumbent representatives of the present province shall continue to represent their respective legislative districts until new representatives shall have been duly elected, qualified and assumed office.
Del Rosario said certain provisions of the law also violate the Local Government Code, specifically that on wealth-sharing.
NO PROPER CONSULTATION
The division of Palawan into 3 provinces did not undergo proper consultation among its citizens and there were no feasibility studies to support it, said Del Rosario.
She said they are working to educate the residents because "there are many people in Palawan, the remotest places, that haven't heard of this."
"They’re so surprised to learn that Palawan will be divided soon and legislation is already done...There’s no study done in the first place to let the people know about the pros and cons, so we have to undertake that job," she said.
The group opposes the division of Palawan because "the people have to be consulted first and it has to come from the people that they want to the province to be divided," she said.
"We don’t believe that this is the answer to poverty...There has been no proper feasibility study or cost-benefit analysis at all before they went on with this," she said.
"We’re just going to have a lot more politicians, we’re going to have more bloated bureaucracies that we don’t need and the real problems in Palawan—environmental problems and the poorest of the poor are still poor, the IPs, because of land-grabbing and they’re losing ancestral land—these won’t be addressed by the division of the province," she said.
She added, any development in Palawan has to be "sustainable," because the island province is home to "a high concentration of endangered species in this one place, so this place must be protected."
She said proponents of this law pursued it for "self-interest," noting that "the proposal has been railroaded all the way to Malacañang."
Residents such as herself knew only of the measure when it was being deliberated at the Senate, she said.
While lobbying for their position, Sen. Miguel Zubiri told their group that he could not help them because his father was good friends with the governor, Jose Alvarez, she recalled.
"It seems to reflect the situation with how it was done in the 2 houses," she said.
In an interview on Saturday after Duterte's signing of the law was reported, Alvarez dismissed critics who claimed that the move is merely gerrymandering, where boundaries of an electoral constituency are manipulated to favor one party or class.
"We experience difficulty in managing our large province. We are doing what is best for the province. It's not gerrymandering," Alvarez said in an interview on ANC's "Rundown."
He said he asked framers of the law to remove a provision which said he can still run for governor after his third term. "It's not a matter of political convenience," he said.
The House of Representatives passed the measure on Aug. 29, 2018, which was then amended by the Senate on Nov. 19, 2018. The House concurred with amendments on Jan. 23, 2019. Duterte approved the measure on April 5, 2019.