Bishops Appeal: ‘Support Proposed Island Region’

Governor Alfredo Marañon, Jr. sought the support of the church hierarchy as well as military and police officials for the Negros Island Region initiative in a bid to achieve integrated and sustainable development, and in efforts to attain lasting peace.

WORKING FOR PEACE & DEVELOPMENT. Governor Alfredo Marañon, Jr. and Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, left, at the 7th Founding Anniversary of the Church-Military and Police Advisory Group-Negros held Thursday at Mambukal Resort.* (Capitol PIO Photo by Richard Malihan)

Speaking at the 7th Founding Anniversary of the Church-Military and Police Advisory Group-Negros held recently at Mambukal Resort, Marañon said that after a series of consultation-dialogues, meetings and studies made by a leading academic institution, it appeared that 90 percent of people from Oriental and Occidental sides are in favor of the one island region because of the unlimited benefits it will bring to Negrenses.

He cited in particular the government’s peace and order campaign, saying that if the Armed Forces has one common command, and the Philippine National Police also has a unified set up, containing crimes and concerns related to internal security are much easier to handle.

Attending the CMPAG-Negros anniversary, anchored on the theme, “Renewal of Commitment”, were Chief Supt. Josephus Angan, PNP regional director for Western Visayas; Major Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division Command; Camp Lapu-Lapu-based Lt. Gen. Nicanor Vivar, commander of the AFP’s Central Command.

The church’s contingent was led by Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, Kabankalan Bishop Patricio Buzon, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the San Carlos Diocese and Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes.

The CMPAG Negros celebration was hosted and organized by the Provincial Government through the Provincial Planning and Development Office headed by Dr. Marlin Sanogal, who is also concurrent Pro-PIDU action officer.

Also present were Brig. Gen. Francisco Patrimonio, deputy division commander of the Jamindan, Capiz-based 3rd Infantry Division; Col. Noel Buan, representing the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade and 302nd Infantry Brigade commanding officer, Col. Allan Martin; Negros Occidental Provincial Police Office director, Senior Supt. Milko Lirazan and his Oriental counterpart, Senior Supt. Mariano Natuel.

“Both the military and police want peace integration and development. They would be able to manage the peace and order situation well if there is one integrated command, “ Marañon told CMPAG-Negros members.

Negros is the only island in the Philippines that belongs to two different regions. The Oriental belongs to Region 7 with its regional center in Cebu City, while Occidental is part of Region 6 with regional offices located in Iloilo City, he explained, adding that traveling to and from the regional centers to attend meetings and conferences entail a lot of cost for government employees and ordinary people.

People from Negros travelling to either Cebu or Iloilo also face the possibility of getting stranded during bad weather as ferry services are being cancelled. That’s only one of the disadvantages. There are more advantages than disadvantages under the one island region, Marañon pointed out, adding that differences in language is not a problem at all as shown by studies because many Negrenses in the Occidental side can speak and understand Cebuano, and many Oriental residents also speak and understand Ilonggo.

Marañon also told Church and military leaders that while Negros Occidental is 43 percent of Western Visayas in terms of land area, income and population, it only receives 13 percent of the pie as the bulk of the development funds are concentrated to Panay provinces.

Government units in the Oriental side also have a similar concern as most of the funding under RDC 7 goes either to Cebu or Bohol, he added, citing statistics taken from the National Economic Development Authority that were presented in various studies.

He also belied claims of those opposed to the NIR that establishing a new region will require an appropriation of P40 billion that will be used to construct new regional offices.

If the Negros Island Region is approved by President Aquino through an executive order, existing offices of national government agencies in both provinces will be utilized as regional offices. So there is no need to immediately start with infrastructure-related projects. To ensure that the cost will be minimal, employees from both provinces will be tapped to ensure that the delivery of services in both sides of the island is unhampered. Actual construction will be done on a staggered basis, he said.

“The effect of the one island region is tremendous. It will last a lifetime into the next generations of Negrenses,” Marañon said.

Marañon also disclosed plans to connect Himamaylan City in Occidental to Tayasan, Negros Oriental will consequently result to shorter travel time as the distance between the two LGUs is only about 35 kilometers.

The NIR concept was brought into the fore more than 20 years by former Negros Occidental Gov. Rafael Coscolluela and the late Negros Oriental Gov. Emilio “Dodo” Macias, II, who made a similar proposal to the national government.

Since the island region was proposed in the early 1990s, both Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental began collaborating on health services and agricultural fronts. The Luz-Sikatuna Primary Hospital was built in the bordering barangays of Isabela town and Guihulngan City. Another primary health facility—the Inapoy Primary Hospital—was established to benefit Kabankalan and Mabinay upland residents.

Both facilities are jointly-run by their respective LGUs, which share the cost of operations, personnel manning, among others.

In 2005, both provinces also entered into an agreement declaring the whole Negros as an “Organic Island.”*