Palawan plebiscite arguments juxtaposed: A loss to economy, a win for environment

March 17, 2021 - 5:29 PM
An aerial view of Palawan (Unsplash/Rhys McKay)

The Palawan division plebiscite has been concluded on Tuesday and it will remain one province.

However, the arguments surrounding the decision to not split it remain divided.

Palawan Gov. Jose Alvarez considered the massive objection to divide the province as a “loss” to the economy.

Residents and other environmentalists, meanwhile, deemed it a win to save Palawan and its biodiversity.

Under the Republic Act 11259 or an act dividing the province of Palawan into three provinces—Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental and Palawan del Sur, a conduct of a plebiscite supervised by the Commission on Elections is required.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed this measure on April 5, 2019.

Section 15 reads: “The provinces of Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur shall be created upon approval by the majority of the votes cast by the voters of the affected areas in a plebiscite.”

In the latest tally of results at 5 p.m. of Tuesday, the Comelec reported that 172,304 voted “No”  against the division of the province and 122,223 votes “Yes” in favor of the split.

A photo of canvassing for the Palawan plebiscite from COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez (James Jimenez/Twitter)

Alvarez’s views

With partial results on Monday, Alvarez conceded to those who voted against the proposition in the historic plebiscite and noted that proponents will not file an electoral protest.

The margin was slim that time with 75,075 “no” votes against 68,198 who supported the initiative.

Alvarez and other politicians previously said that the division could help fast-track the distribution of government services and goods to far-flung areas in Palawan.

However, due to the prevailing votes, Alvarez lamented and claimed that the rejection of the legislation was the Palaweños’ loss.

“Hindi naman ang pamahalaang panlalawigan ang natalo. Ang natalo dito ang sambayanang Palaweño dahil ang batas na ito ay para sa kanila ngunit hindi tinanggap,” he said in a briefing.

Alvarez said he accepted the majority’s decision.

“‘Yon ang result na hindi mababago, tinatanggap natin nang buo,” he said.

Cheers from the majority

The prevailing vote, on the other hand, received cheers from the public.

“The Duterte regime pushing for the division of Palawan into 3 separate provinces. And the people voting NO,” said writer Jerry Gracio.

Environment group Oceana Philippines also joined in and congratulated those who sought to keep Palawan as one province.

Some Filipinos also pointed out that the outcome reflects the residents’ hopes to protect their home province from environmental destruction.

“It is official! The Philippines’ last ecological frontier remains One Palawan. Sobrang overwhelming simula pa lang nung naglalabasan yung mga partial and unofficial tallies from different municipalities,” one Facebook user said.

“In such a way, it effectively averted or prevented as well the impending and most of the time illegal Chinese incursion into the island and it’s territorial jurisdiction which these politicians would be willing to facilitate once a divided Palawan became a reality,” another user said.

Mongabay, an international publication about environment-related news and issues, stated that Palawan’s weak conservation policies led to cases of poaching, illegal trade and incursions from foreign vessels.

“Palawan is considered the ‘hottest hotspot’ in the Philippines’ wildlife trafficking routes, according to USAID’s Protect Wildlife project, also citing intelligence reports showing the involvement of ‘influential people that maintain a network of perpetrators,’” the article said.

Hopeful for 2022 elections

Some social media users, meanwhile, observed that the successful plebiscite reflects that the coming polls is feasible amid the pandemic.

“And yet, amid a pandemic, Palaweños overwhelmingly voted to reject this onerous proposal. There is hope,” anthropologist Gideon Lasco said.

“Palawan’s plebiscite is giving me a reason to hope for the upcoming elections. Then again it will be a lot of both online and on-ground work to do,” a public policy advocate said.

“The main implication for this one is that this plebiscite shows the nationwide elections in 2022 is physically feasible. Any excuse on cancelling it outright would automatically mean malicious intent,” one,” another user commented.