The westernmost Philippine province of Palawan is known to be the largest of all provinces in the country in terms of land area and jurisdiction. While less urbanized and considered underdeveloped in comparison to other provinces, Palawan does boast natural beauty, wildlife and resources. But some quarters in the provincial and national government are of the opinion that these natural resources are unevenly distributed in the province. Senator Sonny Angara thus proposed a bill last April that was passed a month later to divide Palawan into three new provinces, a move criticized by local residents. They have in fact taken the whole matter to the highest court of the land.
Inquirer.net reports that a citizens group from Palawan has petitioned the Supreme Court of the Philippines to declare illegal the recent law that would split the province into three. The Save Palawan Movement sent a 28-page petition asking for Republic Act No. 11259, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in May, to be declared unconstitutional, along with prohibiting the Commission of Elections (Comelec) from making preparations for a plebiscite scheduled on May 2020 that would ask Palaweños to ratify the RA. The Palawan provincial government, Comelec and Department of Budget are being asked to answer the SPM’s challenge of the bill.
According to the Save Palawan Movement legal counsel Grizelda Mayo-Anda, R.A. 11259 contains blatant Constitutional violations pertaining to the provisions of local government. They are also questioning the law explicitly changing the natural wealth sharing arrangement between province, municipality and barangay that have already been established in R.A. 7160, the Local Government Code. From the original 20% provincial, 45% municipal, and 35% barangay the law dividing Palawan would reapportion the province-municipality-barangay sharing to 60%, 24% and 16% instead. The result is a disproportionate amount of resources going to the provincial government at the others’ expense.
R.A. 11259 proposes to divide the province of Palawan into Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur. The reasoning provided by the standing provincial government is that smaller provinces will optimize resource distribution to fuel the growth of the area’s underdeveloped economy. The plebiscite to ratify the Republic Act is also called out by the party of petitioners for excluding the residents of Puerto Princesa, the provincial capital, from participating. Although it is administered separately from the rest of Palawan as its only highly urbanized city the SPM points out that it will be directly affected by the proposed division of the province.
On the other side of the argument, Palawan board member Winston Arzaga has vowed that the provincial government will continue preparing for the plebiscite unless explicitly order by the Supreme Court to stop. They are also countering the petitioners’ accusation that the Palaweños have been kept ignorant of the proposal by launching their own public information campaign supporting provincial division.
Image courtesy of Palawan News