My name is Eduardo Bacolod, residing in New York City. I have been to Palawan twice in 1988 while with the Special Concerns Office of the Department of Agriculture. At present, I am engaged in international development consulting. Lately, my attention is directed to consolidating my works and finally decided to engage in digital media service to contribute to changing the shape of developmental information sharing internationally. In this first issue of Collective Enterprise, I am writing about the One Palawan Development Agenda that Ferdie Blanco, a former colleague in the Department of Agriculture, has prepared. Ferdie is from Cuyo Island Palawan and he is an active member of the One Palawan Facebook group.
First, it is better if we all understand the historical pattern of merger and split of Philippine provinces. In my initial research, the present pattern is towards regional integration but there are sectors who always desire to take control of a particular area largely for political reasons. In the context of regional development and as trade and investment can be easily a direct route, there is no sense for division, but rather consolidation.
The province of Aurora, which is more connected geographically and commercially to Nueva Ecija, is now administratively a part of the Central Luzon Region. Aurora is eventually reconnected with Nueva Ecija, its mother province before it became a part of Quezon Province. The province’s ties with Quezon were largely historical.
The two Negros Provinces have been integrated into one region. There are only three remaining big island provinces that are not yet divided, Cebu, Masbate, and Palawan. The Cebu model of a rural and urban configuration with the Metropolitan Cebu as the heart appears to be a good model for Palawan.
The final part of this article will discuss the business models contained in the One Palawan Development Agenda that we can do if we are all together even with limited participation of the government. Whether the division of Palawan is approved or not in the May 2020 Plebiscite, we have to be patriotic to our obligations because we are not politicians who can only work for the country if elected.
Organizations Are Created Because of People
Former Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Carlos Fernandez, who is from Cuyo Island in Palawan, taught us that in sociology, organizations are created because of people. We were talking about the reorganization in the Department of Agriculture in 1988 when he gave us this lecture in understanding the sociology of reorganizations. The Department of Agriculture is a classic example that shows organizations are created for intended people. In dividing the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources into three line agencies during the time of President Marcos in the 1970s, the President retained Arturo Tanco in the Department of Agriculture. He created the Department of Natural Resources for Jose Leido while the Department of Agrarian Reform was for Conrado Estrella.
The Filipino people were just informed that splitting the Department of Agriculture into three line agencies was purely for better development programs. The main consequence of this decision is its contribution to the bloated Philippine bureaucracy that we have today. We could not even make our country rice self-sufficient even with these resulting redundant organizations. The importation of our staple food even grew four times, from 600,00 metric tons in 1998 to 2.5 million metric tons today. The major agrarian reform program that covers land transfer and land consolidation could not still operationalize integrated farming model with support infrastructure for modernizing the agriculture sector. Concerning the relationship of environmental protection to agriculture, forestry and water resources are vital to irrigation for agriculture purposes. Due to poor interagency collaboration and the long-overdue agricultural modernization that we want to attain, there are advocates who are already proposing to merge the three agencies for better delivery of unified agricultural development programs. It should have been done already.
What is the need to split an organization if the solution is just to make a single organization more responsive and efficient?
The governmental restructuring that we have experienced in the Philippines in the last half-century, not only in the agriculture sector, does not show conclusive proof that splitting government organizations are beneficial to the entire country and its people. Palawan should not be divided, instead, the provincial government must come up with a development agenda that is going to improve the delivery of services and exploring opportunities in an environmentally sound and socially responsible manner.
Palawan though is a latecomer in splitting one big province into smaller provinces. Perhaps, when the provincial executives and the members of the Lower House representing the province were asked for their contribution to national economic development, the best that they could think was to divide the province into three provinces. There is no doubt, however, that the Republic Act 11259 is just a legal scheme to create organizations because of certain people.
The law is going to divide Palawan into three separate provinces. Certainly, those politicians who are going to be elected for the new province’s elective positions are not ordinary citizens of Palawan. They have the financial resources and political leverage to be elected. To know who are these people does not require proficiency in Government Administration and Political Science. These are the same people who pushed and lobbied for the passing of the law in the name of efficient governance to better serve the people of Palawan, particularly those who are in far-flung islands and disadvantaged areas. In reality, they are more concerned with their own interests, the love for power and personal benefits in particular.
Imagination, creativity, and common sense are free and the application of these virtues is needed for the development of Palawan. However, the development agenda for Palawan must be crafted first in consultation with the people, the private business sector, the academic community, the nongovernment organizations, and government institutions concerned. Seemingly, this collective investment agenda initiated by Ferdie Blanco that can be used as the instrument and guide for investment negotiation and project implementation is not existing. The solution, nonetheless, is not to divide, but only to think and act together in a grand manner.
I decided to keep abreast of the One Palawan discussion in this maiden issue of the Collective Enterprise because Palawan with a clear development agenda is what we wish to espouse consistent with the objective of our digital publication. Please join us in the future discussion as we wish to work together to progressively craft the development agenda best for Palawan through this innovative format of digital developmental journalism.
Understanding History and Geography for the Crafting of the One Palawan Development Agenda
By understanding our history and a little of geography, we can better participate in the development of Palawan and the entire country.
We just celebrated the 34th anniversary of the EDSA People Power. In 1991, while studying in Wales in the UK, my classmate from Malta, who is now the Permanent Finance Secretary of his country, told me that they obtained a copy of the documentary film about our success. However, he asked me one thing. “Did you have a plan to be immediately put in place in case you were successful in overthrowing Marcos?” My answer was, “I think nobody considered that seriously because the main concern was to overthrow the dictator first.” Jokingly, I just told him that the reason why I was in the UK at that time was to study so that I could think of the plan for the country when I return. When I returned to the Department of Agriculture, my proposal was to establish a shadow Department of Agriculture that would serve as a model for a shadow government in the Philippines. My colleagues were just laughing at me.
In case the No Vote wins in the May 2020 Plebiscite, perhaps it is about time not to fully trust the politicians anymore. The same politicians whom the people voted to protect their interest can easily sell their souls, there is no doubt.
Please read this historical analysis because there is no substitute for preparation.
Historical Pattern of Split and Merger of Provinces in the Philippines: Lessons To Be Considered in Line with the Crafting of the One Palawan Development Agenda
Before proceeding with the One Palawan Development Agenda, let me first go back to the historical pattern of the division of provinces in the Philippines. I am reviewing this part of our history based on available information from the internet.
In Luzon Island, only two provinces underwent sub-division during the Spanish time after they were created provinces. They were the old Ilocos and Camarines.
Originally composed of the present-day Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Abra, and La Union, the Spaniards disbanded the Ilocos Province in 1818 because it was difficult politically due to a series of revolts. In other words, in our history, it was also because of the people revolting and the Spaniards who wanted better control of the most important province in the northernmost part of the Philippines that resulted in the creation of four provinces. Unintentionally or not, I guess this Spanish colonizer model is being demonstrated in the law that aims to divide Palawan. It is clear that the ones doing the division are not native-born in the area, rather outsiders with native-born collaborators.
The Camarines had also a history of split and merger patterns due to geography and administrative control issues. In 1829, the Province of Camarines was split into Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur, reunited under Ambos Camarines in 1854, but split again after three years. In 1893, they were reunited until March 1917, when they were split into the present-day Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur.
After Camarines in 1917, except for the separation of Quirino from Nueva Vizcaya in 1972 and Aurora from Quezon Province in 1978, there were no more new provinces created in the island of Luzon. Aurora’s history is a more interesting pattern because it returned where its old mother unit Nueva Ecija belongs.
While the early history of Aurora is linked to Quezon province as one of the settlements along the Pacific Coast, but it was a part of Nueva Ecija administratively. In 1902, the district was separated from Nueva Ecija and transferred to the province of Tayabas, which is now Quezon. Aurora became a sub-province of Quezon in 1951 and finally became an independent province in November 1978. As the original part of the province of Quezon, Aurora was part of the Southern Tagalog Region, but its trade and commerce are not attached to the region. In May 2002, the province of Aurora was moved to Central Luzon where it originally belonged.
Understanding Aurora relative to the division of Palawan is important because one of the major sponsors of the bill in the Upper House of the Philippine Congress that divides Palawan is from Aurora. In fact, if Aurora is not going to be commercially attached to the vast Central Luzon Region, it could not stand alone for investment opportunities as the province is experiencing already. Then where did Senator Angara get the wisdom of dividing Palawan if the province he comes from is looking also for a big brother?
Let me continue with respect to the division in the other island provinces. Cebu was not divided since it was created as a province during the Spanish period. While Cebu City is a highly urbanized independent city, a metropolis out of Cebu City was created. While urbanization was largely focused only in this area of the city, the urban and rural mix of Cebu Island stabilizes a progressive island economy with political stability without the call to divide the province. Perhaps it is a good model to follow for Palawan, which is a balance of urban and rural configuration. Following this model, Puerto Princesa will remain an important city in the divided Palawan. Why then divide if Palawan can follow the Cebu model.
Panay historically has been existing as three provinces during the Spanish period. Iloilo was founded in 1560, Antique in 1780, and Capiz as Politico-Military Province in 1716. The only split occurred in 1956 when Aklan separated from Capiz.
While Negros was divided into two provinces because of a natural mountain terrain and security concern due to attack from Muslim invaders from Mindanao, it was only in 1890 that the Cebuano speaking Negros Oriental was separated from the Ilongo speaking Negros Occidental. Although there is a setback to unite the two provinces into one region, being geographically in just one island economy is recognized by the people of both provinces. Apparently, the lack of funding is the main reason why the creation of the Negros Region is stopped for a while. The justification seems to be highly political. However, if there will just be a collective effort in putting up a governance model for public-private partnerships, Negros Island is definitely a good regional model that can stand on its own because of the existing resources on the island. I believe Negros Island can stand alone to be incorporated as one region without the national government support for a regional administration. Then if the Negros Provinces are being united in a region, why then divide Palawan? If funding is also difficult, what is the logic of creating additional provinces as this is an additional burden to the national government?
Samar could have been divided by natural terrains too that resulted in three provinces that face different seas. Western Samar faces the inland Samar Sea; Northern Samar has San Bernardino Strait facing Sorsogon in the Bicol Region; and Eastern Samar’s coastline is in the Pacific Ocean. The administrative control over the two islands of Samar and Leyte during the Spanish period also recorded a pattern of split and merger, but largely based on the need for efficient administration called by the Catholic Church. It was in 1965 when the law splitting the Samar Island into three provinces initiated by three Congressmen representing the three congressional districts was enacted. Today, the three provinces are still among the poorest provinces in the country. Still, the best development plan for the entire Samar Island has to consider all the provinces as they have their unique contribution to the development of the island. I have traveled the whole island twice already and I see the need for a one island agenda, which is to a great extent affected too by the provincial political subdivision. Nonetheless, there is always the best model for regional planning, not the way NEDA runs it definitely.
Leyte’s subdivision into the bigger North and the smaller South is a matter of geography. The Northern part of the island is now the Leyte Province that faces Cebu while the Southern Leyte Province is close to Mindanao and Bohol. Like Samar, and island development agenda for Leyte is the most appropriate.
Mindoro is a different case as it started from a smaller province of Marinduque as its mother. While it is larger than Marinduque, it was only in 1902 that the province of Mindoro was created as an independent province. The act that created the province of Mindoro included the islands of Lubang, Caluya, and Semirara. The last two became municipalities of Antique, a province on Panay Island. Mindoro was declared a regular province in 1921 and in 1950 Mindoro was divided into Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro. Connecting the two provinces of Mindoro Island through the road infrastructure in the mountains and possible coastal roads would be certain to happen. The bridge that is going to connect Batangas and Mindoro through Verde Island is already possible. Due to its proximity to Batangas in mainland Luzon and the other island provinces of Romblon and Marinduque, and Panay Island, including Palawan in the future, Mindoro’s development agenda always consider its neighboring provinces.
Of the bigger islands, there are only three that remain as one island one province. They are Cebu, Masbate, and Palawan. Palawan and Masbate, in fact, are the two island provinces that are considered the last frontier to show that the Filipinos capability to manage something big is still possible in local governance. The propensity to divide anything into pieces, reflects the “Filipino culture of smallness,” as the National Artist Nick Joaquin portrays in his essay. This culture is the one we should all be working together to overthrow as it has no longer a place in today’s advanced technologies. What Palawan needs is the best business model for it to stand alone to restore its economic beauty as one province rather than an eyesore of three provinces that are surely just mere models of inefficiency. I have already prepared a one province investment agenda for Masbate because it is the center of the country’s nautical highway system. If Palawan and Masbate will develop based on a collective governance agenda I am proposing, there is no doubt that its impact will snowball in most parts of the Visayas and Mindanao.
Let me share what I learned in the division of provinces in Mindanao. When I was in Dipolog sometime in 1996, I met an old businessman who happened to have the same educational journey I followed. From Dipolog City, as a young boy, he studied at the Central Luzon Agricultural School in my hometown of Munoz, Nueva Ecija. The school is the first agricultural school in the country and it is what is now the Central Luzon State University. The Second World War caught him in Nueva Ecija, then he went to UPLB for college. He worked first for a government agency with its headquarters in Zamboanga City covering the entire Zamboanga Peninsula. He told me that they could do the extension services for the entire Zamboanga Peninsula at that time when transportation was difficult. I realized that if Zamboanga is just one province and our politicians are real visionaries, with focal development points clustering around Zamboanga City and the other cities of Pagadian and Dipolog, it could be a magnificent piece of development. He was telling me that Zamboanga should not be divided. If Zamboanga is just like one province with a regional plan, then it can easily portray its trade with Mindanao, the rest of the country, and Malaysia. The only way to do it is to have a regional development agenda but being divided into different provinces is already difficult. In fact, Zamboanga Sibugay was just created in 2020 as another province taken out of the peninsula.
The Cotabato Province is another model that dividing the province for administrative control cannot easily contrive a model for regional development. The heart of Cotabato is the Cotabato River Basin. Today, a regional development model for the Cotabato River Basin, which could easily contribute to national rice and corn self-sufficiency and agro-industrial modernization in Mindanao is difficult to craft as a regional development plan because there are separate provinces of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Sultan Kudarat.
Perhaps those who advocate for the division of Palawan may justify also that historically, Palawan is composed of three provinces. However, the Americans consolidated Palawan into one province in 1902 due to better management. The US model for administration is not to divide. Of the 50 states in the US, only Carolina and Dakota got divided along geographic lines. Historically, therefore, Palawan has also a short history of split and merger patterns.
Misamis, Agusan, Surigao, and Davao underwent political divisions too. However, these provinces do not have the size now for a beautiful regional development plan. I just wish to clarify that the regions we are talking about today in the Philippines are purely for administrative management and they are not real regions for planning purposes.
I am not saying that the big provinces should not have been divided. I presume that was the right model at that time considering the poor transportation and communication. However, I am saying that the size of our provinces due to division are no longer appropriate at this time. In fact, the trend now is regional integration of different provinces like the hard process being done in Central Luzon and creating Negros Island as just one province. I just talked to a friend from Ilocos Norte and he said that if Ilocos could just be one province today, it is easy to prepare and implement a regional development agenda. The division of Palawan will certainly slow down the momentum, and there is no certainty that the three provinces will separately or collectively grow as independent provinces taken from Palawan.
Finally, development is not based on the technical merit of the model but based on the appropriateness for the time and the split up tactic is no longer appropriate at this time.
The second part of this piece will be the One Palawan Development Agenda that has been initiated by Ferdie Blanco. The full report on the agenda will appear in the next issue.