(SPOT.ph) Despite protests from civic groups and the threat of "China [having] the opportunity to infiltrate and influence smaller local government units" (according to Sen. Risa Hontiveros), President Rodrigo Duterte on April 5 signed into law Republic Act No. 11259 or the "Charter of the Provinces of Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur." A copy of the law was released to the press only today, April 13, and will take effect 15 days after publication.
This act splitting Palawan, which is part of the Southwestern Tagalog or MIMAROPA Region (along with Occidental and Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, and Romblon), into three separate provinces was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 2016 by Franz Josef George Alvarez, Frederick Abueg, and Gil Acosta. It was approved in the Senate in November 2018 through a House Bill sponsored by Sen. Sonny Angara.
With the signing of the law, the three new provinces "shall be created upon approval by the majority of the votes cast by the voters of the affected areas in a plebiscite conducted and supervised by the Commission on Elections on the second Monday of May 2020 following the effectivity of this Charter" while the election of provincial officials (governor, vice governor, and provincial council) will take place on the second Monday of May 2022.
The division of the three provinces and their municipalities is as follows:
Palawan del Norte
- Taytay (capital town)
- El Nido
- Roxas (capital town)
- San Vicente
Palawan del Sur
- Brooke’s Point (capital town)
Puerto Princesa City, currently the capital and seat of the provincial government of Palawan, "shall not be qualified to vote in the plebiscite and for candidates for the provincial and elective positions." The highly urbanized city will also be severed in the creation of the new provinces, which was a decision met with criticism early on.
Save Palawan Movement also earlier expressed concerns that this could weaken policies that once protected Palawan's biodiversity and natural resouces. The province has been hailed time and again as the world's best island in the world by international magazines and award-giving bodies for its array of natural wonders, from the towering limestone cliffs to its rich marine life. No consultation with the affected sectors was carried out prior to the proposal.
Hontiveros, on November 19, 2018, also pointed out, "This is not your business as usual subdivision of political units but one with deep geopolitical repercussions especially since the Province of Palawan is right in the forefront of our West Philippine Sea territory."
Since January, more than 200 Chinese vessels have been seen swarming around Pag-asa Island, one of the biggest islands in the disputed Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea. It is also the seat of the Kalayaan municipal government under the province of Palawan—at least until the new law takes effect, then it will be under the province of Palawan del Sur. More Chinese fishing boats were also seen hanging around Kota Island and Panata Island. The Chinse coast guard has been reported to be stealing Filipino fishermen's catch and preventing Filipino fishermen from entering the Philippine-owned islands.