The China factor In Palaweños’ rejection of partition

"What a magnificent decision. Bravo."


Since the convening of the First Congress, legislators have filed and obtained approval of bills seeking the partitioning of long-unitary provinces. Thus, Zamboanga became three provinces (Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, and Zamboanga Sibugay), Samar became three provinces (Samar, Northern Samar and Western samar), Iloilo gave way to four provinces (Ilolo, Capiz, Antique and Aklan), Mountain Province gave way to four provinces (Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Bontoc), Davao became three provinces (Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental), Mindoro became Mindoro Occidental and Mindoro Oriental, Nueva Vizcaya acquired a sister-province (Quirino), Aurora was carved out of Quezon and Cotabato gave way to four provinces (Cotabato, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat).

In all of those cases the come-on argument was economic—or, more precisely, fiscal. The newly created province would have its own budget, its own administrative structure—with all the opportunities for dispensation of patronage that offers - its own IRA (internal revenue allowance) and its own nationally funded projects; the municipalities making up the new province would henceforth have more financial resources at their disposal than they had before, which would make them more capable of pursuing their pet projects.

On the political plane, the carving out of a new province would be the best way to maintain peace between the ruling political family and a challenging political clan. This has been the case in most provincial partitionings: Its grip on mother-province political power and the challenging political clan will now have its own domain. This has often been the case for provincial partitionings, particularly in Muslim Mindanao.

The Filipino people should have expected that the partitioning of this country’s third-largest island into three provinces would follow the historical pattern and that the plebiscite for the Palawenos’ approval of the partition was a foregone conclusion. After all, the island province’s leading politicians, including the powerful Alvarezes, were all in favor of the partition. They all would now have their own turfs.

To their great shock, and to that of the rest of their countrymen, the Palaweños turned out in force to reject the partition law partitioning their beautiful island, which was said to be this country’s last frontier. In so doing, the Palawenos signalled that they did not want to be separated from one another; they let it be known that they wanted to remain, one, united Palaweños people.

I am inclined that there was a second factor at work in the Palaweños’ decision to remain unpartitioned and stay unitary. That was the China factor - more precisely, anti-China sentiment.

The Palaweños were mindful that their island, which hosts the westernmost command of the AFP (armed Forces of the Philippines), is the part of their country that is closest to China and that Palawan is part of the Philippines’ frontline vis-a-vis the country that has been openly violating Philippine sovereignty. The people of Palawan, of which the outlying municipality of Kalayaan is a part, realized that China’s illegal incursions are getting ever closer to their island.

President Rodrigo Duterte has made it perfectly clear that he has no stomach for fighting with the Chinese bully, but if, by some happenstance, hostilities were to break out between China and the Philippines, Palawan would very likely be the battle line.

Not much has been broadcast or written about it, but I think that success was achieved by the anti-partition people who argued—often in whispers—that Palawan would provide a better defense against China if it remained one, unpartitioned island.

Rejecting the partition of their beautiful island was a magnificent decision by the Palaweños. Bravo.

Topics: Rudy Romero , China , Palawan
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