Rep. Leo Rafael Cueva (Neg. Occ., 2 nd District) yesterday said that, as President Rodrigo Duterte pushes for a shift to a federal form of government, “We are requesting that Negros Island be appointed as one federal state, or, at least, assign the whole island to one federal state, and not divide it again into two separate parts”.
Cueva issued the call in a privilege speech,onthe president's recent abolition of the Negros Island Region composed of Negros Occidental and Oriental, before the House of Representatives yesterday.
“Despite the sad, forced ending to an otherwise happy and perfect union, we are glad to have shown NIR as a good model for federalism, as an empowered region trying to determine the course of its development,” he said.
Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Oriental Negros Governor RoelDegamo are both supporting the petition of the business sector for the creation of a “Negros Island Special Area for Development” that aims to pick up where NIR left off, by coordinating and integrating efforts to address the common concerns of both Negros provinces, he said.
Cueva made it clear that the people of Negros Island will respect the President's decision. “We accept this is God's will and believe that He has a better plan for Negros,” he added.
Meanwhile, Cueva told his colleagues in the House that an air of sadness has pervadedin Negros Island, after news broke out that the president signedExecutive Order No. 38 on August 7, revoking Executive Order No. 183 that created the NIR on May 29, 2015.
The NIR was dismissed as a small, insignificant region because itonly has two provinces, Cueva said, but what most people do not know isthat it has the most number of cities, at 19,including the highly-urbanized city of Bacolod, 38 municipalities and 1,219 barangays, spread out in its 10 congressional districts.
Negros is the fourth largest island in the country, with a land area of 13,351 square kilometers, equivalent to 22 percent of the Visayas' islands total land area. It has a population of close to 5 million people, equivalent to about one-fourth of the total population of the Visayas. Its annual income is over P4 billion and Internal Revenue Allotment of aboutP15 billion, he said.
In effect, the creation of the Negros Island Region has resulted in an equitable distribution of population, land area, income and IRA among the affected regions, including Regions 6 and 7, Cueva said.
Contrary to how some people make it appear, the creation of the NIR was not a political move, the dreamof a “One Island, One Region”, was nurtured by the Negrenses for about 25 years, starting in the 1980s, he said.
The NIR was a realization of the dream to unite the Negros provinces to pursue an integrated, island-wide development planto accelerate socio-economic progress, Cueva added.
After having experienceda devastating economic crisis,that was coupled with a bloody war between the government and a communist insurgency in Negros in the 1980s, a catch-up plan for development was in order, he said.
“NIRwas to be the vehicle that would speed up the island's socio-economic transformation, thereby reducing our poverty rates, ranging from over 32 percent in Occidental, to over 50 percent in Oriental,” he said.
In the two years that NIR existed, the people of both provinces were able to work together in joint tourism development and promotion, environmental and natural resources management, disaster risk reduction and management, agricultural modernization and food security, and peace and order, especially in the campaign against illegal drugs and terrorism, among others, he said.
The NIR officials had also drafted a Regional Development Plan (RDP)for 2017 to 2022, that is aligned with the Philippine Development Plan for the same period,consistent with the President's Socio-Economic Agenda, he added.
Though short-lived and having operated without a separate budget, the NIR through more than 30 regional line agencies and attached bureaus that set up their offices in Bacolod or Dumaguete cities, accomplished so much,even beyond the expectations of their own department secretaries, he said.
Their annual reports would show that they have accomplished more than what they had set out to do, he said.
He also said it is not true that the NIR was asking for P18 billion for the setting up of its regional offices, in fact, there is an offer for the donation of 500 hectares of government land for the NIR regional center site in Kabankalan City in the middle of the two provinces.
For the office buildings, at least three private companies expressed their intent to construct the structures at the regional center site on a “public-private partnership”, with the regional agencieslater using their existing rental budgets on a “rent-to-own” scheme, Cueva pointed out.
He said Negrenses were forewarned last year about the eventual abolition of NIR, that is why they launched a campaign to convince the President to do otherwise.
“We were actually hoping that we could have,at least, beengiven the chance to present our point of view to the President and his Cabinet, to let them see that NIR's cause is more significant than just reducing it to a figure on the budget,” Cueva said.
He said members of the Lower House and in the Senate have also filed bills and resolutions to make NIR a permanent region, “but this would require a long process and we do not know if we can see its realization in our lifetime”.
“We would like to believe that the President's men have a macro perspective of the national situation that requires them to abort our two provinces' promising union that has waited for over two decades to be solemnized. This setback,definitely, will not deter us from pursuing our dreams for a greater Negros Island,” he said.
Cueva, meanwhile, said he sympathizes with the thousandsmost adversely affected by the NIR abolition: the newly-hired regional employees, mostly job order personnel, who lost their jobs and will soonbe added to the statistics of the unemployed in the country.
“We hope they will be properly assisted in the transition so that their families will not go hungry,” he said.
Cueva also thanked Western Visayas for Negros Occidental and Central Visayas for Oriental Negros, for welcoming the two provincesback with wide open arms.
“Life goes on for all of us in Negros Island. We hold on to our faith that when God closes a door, He opens a window. Given the resilience of the Negrenses, I have no doubt that we will again surmount the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead,” he said.*CPG
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