Officials dismayed by abolition of Negros Island Region




Thursday, August 10, 2017
By MARCHEL P. ESPINA, MERLINDA A. PEDROSA

NEGRENSES expressed dismay over President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to sign Executive Order (EO) 38, abolishing Negros Island Region (NIR).

Former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who spearheaded the efforts to create the region, said the development of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental will be “slower” not being under one region.

In his social media accounts, Roxas said: “Nanugunan gid ako nga waay madayon ang Negros Island Region. Madamo ang magabenepisyo kung ginpadayon ini. Sayang. (I’m sad Negros Island Region did not continue. Many would have benefited if it pushed through. What a waste).”

Negrenses will be traveling farther and spending more for services, added Roxas, who has roots in Negros Occidental as his mother Judy Araneta-Roxas is from Bago City.

On May 29, 2015, Duterte’s predecessor, former president Benigno Aquino III, signed the Executive Order 183 creating NIR, which separated Negros Occidental from Western Visayas and Negros Oriental from Central Visayas, to accelerate social and economic development and improve the delivery of public services.

Interior Undersecretary Jesus Hinlo Jr., in a statement, said as a Negrense, he is saddened by the decision of the President.

However, he appealed to his fellow Negrenses to respect the decision.

“Although we failed to convince the President to retain the NIR, we have to understand that the administration has priority programs and projects that need funds that compete with the operational existence of the NIR,” Hinlo said.

However, Hinlo remained optimistic that the two Negros provinces will continue to prosper with shared tourism, businesses, and trade opportunities.

On Monday, August 7, Duterte signed EO 38, revoking the creation of NIR due to lack of funds.

“The establishment of regional offices of departments and agencies in the NIR requires substantial appropriation to be fully operational, thus competing with government priority programs and projects for funding,” the EO said.

With the dissolution, the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental will now revert to Western Visayas and Negros Oriental to Central Visayas, respectively.

It also abolished the regional offices in NIR, with their personnel ordered to return to their previous units or reassigned to other offices in their respective departments or agencies.

“The winding up of the operations of the NIR regional offices, as well as the final disposition of their functions, positions, personnel, assets and liabilities shall be done immediately and completed not later than 60 days from the effectivity of this order,” the EO said.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government is also directed to supervise the reversion of the two provinces to its previous regions.
Continued collaboration

Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. said he is slightly disappointed and dismayed, but had to accept and respect the decision of the President.

The governor said the province will continue to work and collaborate with Negros Oriental headed by Governor Roel Degamo.

Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson echoed the sentiment of the governor, as he proposed to create a special body to continue the cooperation between the two provinces.

“NIR is not priority for this administration as can be understood in EO 38,” he said. “If we step back, we may lose whatever cooperation through NIR’s Regional Development Council has gained.”

Third District Representative Alfredo Benitez said it is a “sad day for Negros.”

However, Benitez assured his fellow Negrenses that the lawmakers will try to ensure it will not have a negative consequence to Negros.

“We, in Congress, will work hard (so it will have) minimal effect to the island,” the solon said.

Sixth District Representative Mercedes Alvarez said the “delivery of services of agencies in NIR became more efficient, and through it we were able to strengthen our linkages with all stakeholders.”

However, with this development under EO 38, revoking NIR, “We place our trust in the wisdom of the President even as we look for ways to improve the delivery of basic services to our people.”

“We must make the most of what has been achieved to date, and as we transition, I express my deep gratitude to the men and women of the different regional offices of the NIR,” Alvarez said.

Capitol consultant and former governor Rafael Coscolluela, member of NIR-Technical Working Group, said he is “sad and disappointed, but challenged.”

“We just need to keep working together as one island, with or without national government support,” he said.

“For the meantime, we can explore creating a Negros Development Alliance to keep our initiatives going,” Coscolluela added.

Second District Board Member Salvador Escalante Jr. said the abolition of NIR only shows that the region is not a priority.

“This does not mean the end of NIR. For me, this is a challenge. Probably we have not yet given enough reasons for the President to consider NIR,” he said.

Still hopeful

For his part, Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia urged the Negrenses to respect the decision of the President.

However, the mayor remained hopeful that the Negrenses can still appeal the decision.

“With solid and valid justifications, maybe this NIR proposition can still be given a second look by the executive branch,” the mayor said.

“Meanwhile, let us hope that our congressmen in the NIR territory will pursue and hasten the legislative process to put this issue back into the debating table,” he added.

Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran said the budget requirements of NIR is about P19 billion.

Maybe the passage of free tertiary education in the country’s state colleges and universities outweigh the retention of the region, he added.

Councilor Caesar Distrito said: “We lost an opportunity to be known as one separate and distinct region. We will go back to letting our people travel to Iloilo again as the regional center of Region 6 (Western Visayas).”

Councilor Renecito Novero said that “unless it is reconsidered, we might as well respect it and promptly prepare for readjustments back to our former regional set up.

“Life must go on vibrantly, with or without NIR,” he said.

Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr. said: “We should not be deterred in pushing for a Negros Federal State considering that the priority of the Duterte government is to change the form of government to federal.”

“We will just simply, in other words, change our support and trust in pushing for a federal form of government and a separate federal state for Negros Island. The fight continues and nothing is lost yet,” he said.

NIR bill

Abang Lingkod partylist Representative Stephen Paduano said he feels hopeless with the bill establishing NIR, which he filed last year.

House Bill 4532 or “An act establishing the Negros Island to be known as Region 18" is pending before the House committee on local government.

Paduano assured his fellow Negrenses that they will do their best to work out appropriations for the projects and programs of the two Negros provinces.

Since its creation, the two-year old region had been operating with zero budget, with the funds being sourced from the previous regions of its two provinces. (With reports from Teresa D. Ellera)