By Dolly Yasa
BACOLOD City – The proposal to create a fourth province under the proposed Negros Island Region (NIR) elicited diverse reactions from some Negros Occidental mayors.
Earlier, Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson met with Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo to discuss the latter’s opposition to the revival of the NIR.
The NIR was first established in 2015 during the administration of the late President Benigno Simeon Aquino III through Executive Order No. 183.
But it was abolished by former President Rodrigo Duterte also through an EO citing the need to ensure that priority government programs and projects are sufficiently funded.
“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 funding,” Duterte said.
Lacson said Degamo made a counter-proposal to create a new province that will include the “Bisaya” speaking towns and cities of Negros Occidental – Sagay, Escalante, San Carlos and Toboso – along with Vallehermoso in Negros Oriental.
“Bisaya” refers to the Cebuano dialect which is spoken in areas covered by Sagay City to San Carlos City, Negros Occidental.
On Friday, San Carlos City Mayor Rene Gustilo described Degamo’s proposal as “insane.” But he joked that if he will be the governor of that province, “then why not?”
Gustilo, however, said that he is contented with being part of Negros Occidental.
Former Toboso mayor Richard Jaojoco welcomed the proposed fourth province, saying “it would be nearer to us compared to the current location of the provincial government.”
Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, who chairs the Regional Development Council 6 and is a staunch supporter of NIR, said he believes that it is not necessary to create another province in Negros Island.
Degamo contended that his proposal will ensure equal voting at Regional Development Council (RDC) meetings should NIR be revived, noting that Negros Occidental is bigger and a more dominant province.
Under the proposed NIR bill pending in Congress, the new region will be composed of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor.
“What is the purpose of creating another province? Rather than having a third Negros province, which will take time, as it will go through a process, that might not even happen in this administration,” Benitez asked.
“If the Negros Oriental governor wants an equal footing or fair representation, then we might hear him out, and address the issues, at hand, rather than having a third province,” he added.
Aside from cultural differences and language barrier, Degamo has repeatedly pointed out that the creation of NIR will put Negros Oriental at a disadvantage, citing a study made by Silliman University.
He noted that Negros Occidental has seven political districts and 11 cities, compared to three districts of Negros Oriental, with only six cities.
That would also mean that there will be no equal sharing of resources and income, he added.
With Siquijor, which is a small province, joining NIR, Lacson said “we have to assure them that we are here to help all the provinces under the new region.”
Negros Oriental and Siquijor are both under Region 7, while Negros Occidental belongs to Region 6.
Lacson said that while he did not outrightly reject Degamo’s proposal to create a new province, he said he believes that it is not the solution to the “equal footing” concern.
“There are other ways to assure them, that nobody will be left behind. To create a new province might even delay the creation of NIR,” he added.