San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod City

BACOLOD, Philippines - It may be a usual Sunday in the city of Bacolod.  Nevertheless, across many parishes and congregations, a short but special prayer was sent up to heaven in a plea that the newly formed Negros Island Region would not be abolished.

For some weeks now, uncertainty had been cast over the fate of the Negros Island Region (Region 18) when Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno announced in an ambush interview last October 11, 2016, that President Rodrigo Duterte is set to sign an executive order (EO) to abolish the Negros Island Region (NIR) created during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III.

Within seven days from Diokno's announcement, the Regional Peace and Order Council of the Negros Island Region met in Dumaguete City with the forum presided over by its chairman Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo. The NIR Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) then passed a resolution on mass motion requesting President Rodrigo Duterte not to revoke the executive order creating the Negros Island Region.

The resolution of the RPOC also assured the president that the NIR can survive with a status quo on the budget.

As early as the week of October 11, 2016, Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon called again on Negrenses to lobby and pray that the president will retain the NIR.

In the said forum of the RPOC, Negros Occidental Provincial Planning and Development Officer Marlin Sanogal said that a briefer on issues raised by those advocating the NIR revocation has been prepared.

In the said briefer, on the P19 Billion proposed 2017 budget for NIR being “costly” and “a waste of money”, the NIR Regional Line Agencies (RLAs) and State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) submitted to the Regional Development Council a proposed 2017 budget of close to P12 Billion composed of Personal Services, Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses, and Capital Outlay.

However, the budget is not the all-important issue here, considering that on their almost one year existence now, the NIR RLAs did not have their own budget but relied on the allocation for Negros Occidental under Region 6 and that of Negros Oriental under Region 7, as well as on whatever savings their Central Offices turned over to them, it added.

“This means that even without a separate allocation, NIR RLAs can still operate, at a very satisfactory level, even, as their accomplishments would show. Revoking NIR on the issue of the budget, being allegedly ‘costly' and ‘a waste of money to spend P19B for such two-province region', is somewhat short-sighted and misses the point of the unification,” the briefer said.

Spending whatever amount on a region with two provinces having poverty rates of 32.2 percent (Neg. Occ.) and 50.1 percent (Neg. Or.), will never be a waste of money, it said.

“Governments exist not to save money but to deliver public services where it is most needed, to alleviate the plight of the poor,” the briefer said.

It also pointed out that the claim that it is not too late to dissolve NIR because it is not yet operational, is not true.

On the relevance of NIR in the wake of the move towards federalism, the briefer said, perhaps, no other region is more ready for federalism than NIR with ample sources of revenue from a growing economy to support its operations as a separate state.

“Should the national government, however, decide against making NIR a separate federal state, it is the wish of the Negrenses to bring the whole island to become part of whatever state it is going to be assigned to, in order to continue the unification of the two Negros provinces, and not cut it up again and assign each part to two different federal states,” the briefer added.