MANILA- The division of tourist haven Palawan into 3 provinces has "no connection" to the Philippines' maritime dispute with China, Malacañang said Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the assurance in light of opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros' remarks that "China will now have the opportunity to infiltrate and influence smaller government units.”
"No connection. Kahit naman walang probinsya kung gusto mag-infiltrate ng mga lokong 'yan eh," Panelo told reporters during a Palace press briefing.
(Even though there are no provinces, if China wants to infiltrate, they'll do so.)
"Parang wala naman koneksyon iyon eh," he added.
(It seems that there is no connection.)
President Rodrigo Duterte last April 5 signed a law dividing Palawan into 3 distinct and independent provinces--Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur, which shall be the mother province.
The creation of the new provinces would require a plebiscite to be held on the second Monday of May 2020 and supervised by the Commission on Elections.
Each province, meanwhile, shall have its legislative districts effective upon the election and qualification of representatives to be held on the second Monday of May 2022.
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.
Critics of the new law have expressed concern that Palawan's division could work in Beijing's favor given the long-standing maritime dispute between the Philippines and China.
Philippine authorities have repeatedly raised concerns over China's activities in the disputed waters particularly militarization efforts which Beijing has denied.
Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez over the weekend also allayed fears that dividing Palawan would only make it beneficial for China to advance its claim in the West Philippine Sea.
"If China will take over Palawan there is no force that can repel them if there is an invasion, but I don't think they'll do that. They will not do that," Alvarez said.