The island of Palawan is the fifth largest in the whole Philippine archipelago. It is also part of the same-named province of Palawan, which with its outlying islands and coastal waters makes it the Philippine province with the largest area of jurisdiction. With its reputation as a popular and highly-recommended non-obvious island destination in Southeast Asia, Palawan has a formidable tourism sector in its primarily-agricultural economy. But in 2017 the Provincial Board unanimously voted to divide Palawan into three new provinces. A plebiscite was scheduled for early 2020 but moved to this year because of the pandemic. And when that plebiscite was finally held last Saturday, the motion was defeated.

The Manila Bulletin reports that the voters of Palawan have rejected by plebiscite a motion to split their province in three: Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur. On March 13, the plebiscite for the provincial division as required by Republic Act 11259 was held across Palawan except for the capital and highly urbanized city of Puerto Princesa, to decide their future. Proponents of the division such as incumbent Governor Jose Alvarez believe smaller provinces will allow for quicker delivery of the basic social services through better micromanagement.

But the Palaweños thought differently. Of the 297,728 registered voters who came out during the weekend to vote on the plebiscite, 172,304 voted No against 122,223 who voted Yes, in a ratio of 58.50%-41.50% (with 1.08% of the total votes being either invalid or blank), to reject dividing the province. Of the total 490,219 registered voters in Palawan, the 294,728 participants comprised about 60.73%, which has been considered by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as a successfully conducted plebiscite, according to their spokesperson James Jimenez. The results were finally publicized this past Tuesday, March 16.

Governor Alvarez has accepted the province’s decision and will not call for a recount of the plebiscite votes (just Yes or No). He is however disappointed that the Palaweños believed that smaller provinces were disadvantageous rather than more convenient in covering basic service and infrastructure for the more geographically isolated areas of Palawan. Aside from Puerto Princesa, the municipality of Kalayaan in the West Philippine Sea also did not vote in the plebiscite, though only because bad weather prevented paraphernalia from reaching their little community, located in the Spratly Islands.

Image courtesy of CNN Philippines