The CamSur issue revisited
HIDDEN AGENDA (The Philippine Star) - October 7, 2012 - 12:00am

One major casualty in the recent ruckus in the Senate over the handling of the West Philippine Sea dispute is Camarines Sur or CamSur as the verbal shadow boxing between Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on the latter’s Palace-sanctioned back-channeling efforts had all but killed the debate on everything that is wrong with the bill designed to balkanize the fast-rising Bicol province.

Concerted efforts to railroad the passage of the bill that is not even on Malacañang’s legislative priority list has only divided the Senate much faster than it could split CamSur into two provinces--and lays bare anew everything that is wrong with Congress and mainstream Philippine politics.

This proposal, which aims to carve a new province to be called Nueva Camarines (NuevaCam) out of the 4th and 5th districts or just the 4th district of CamSur, is widely seen in and out of the Senate as an unnecessary, unpopular, highly divisive, impractical and costly maneuver to end CamSur’s winning streak, yet the Senate appears wasting its time on this gerrymandering move when it could better use such time tackling national bills requiring its urgent and undivided attention.

With the resumption this week of congressional sessions following the two-week break, there is consensus that the Senate would do well to put this split-CamSur bill in the freezer and devote its time and resources instead on more pressing bills like those on Reproductive Health (RH), Freedom of Information (FOI), hike in the excise taxes on so-called “sin” products like alcohol and tobacco, and the proposed 2013 national budget of P2 trillion.

House Bill 4820, which chops up CamSur to create NuevaCam, is undoubtedly a political accommodation for Reps. Arnulfo Fuentebella and Luis Villafuerte, both of whom are on their last terms in the House representing, respectively, the 4th and 3rd districts.

The bill is still pending approval in the Senate. And yet Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr has been quoted as saying that the poll body would be willing to extend until December the deadline for the filing of candidacies for next year’s local polls, apparently just to accommodate the likes of Fuentebella and Villafuerte who need to have new political bailiwicks where they can run anew next summer by skirting constitutional term limits.

Brillantes is in no position at this point to unilaterally say that the Comelec can extend the deadline because there is no law yet written by Congress and signed by President Aquino. Even if there is a law already, a plebiscite will still have to be staged in CamSur to determine if the people favor the split. And even if a plebiscite will be held, Brillantes can only say that the Comelec can extend the deadline if and only when the results show that the voters support the creation of Nueva Camarines.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who chairs the local government committee, was apparently surprised to hear the Comelec is willing to bend the rules on this matter that he had asked Brillantes to clarify and issue a categorical statement regarding his position on the CamSur split. In fairness to Brillantes, the proponents of the bill were the ones who announced his alleged willingness to wait for the bill’s approval.

The statements quoting Brillantes are certainly murky, given the fact that no law has yet been passed creating NuevaCam, let alone any schedule for a plebiscite to determine whether the people of Camarines Sur are willing to break up their province into two. (Under the law, a plebiscite can be held to decide on the split proposal only after the President has signed into law an enrolled bill (passed by both chambers) that calls for the holding of this referendum in the province concerned.

If Brillantes was quoted correctly, then we wonder why even the Comelec is going out of its way to please the Fuentebella family whose 100-year track record in lording it over the 4th district--better known as the Partido area--has remained untarnished by achievement.

The only thing that stand out in their century-long rule is the worsening poverty and corruption in the Camarines district where most members of the congressman’s family cling to powerful political positions.

Statements quoting several senators show that they are willing to just let the bill sail smoothly so that the people of Camarines Sur could decide for themselves via a plebiscite whether they want their province chopped up. The question in the plebiscite, of course, does not include the unstated fact that the province is being chopped up to accommodate politicians who have no place to go under a united CamSur come 2013 because of the constitutional term limits.

CamSur folk, including those in Fuentebella’s district, seem to know more than their congressman that the global trend is to consolidate rather than to balkanize geographical areas.

Fuentebella and Rep. Villafuerte are going the opposite--and wrong--direction in wanting badly to create a new province by cutting up CamSur because a prominent study done by the Local Government Development Foundation (Logodef) in tandem with German foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung has recommended the consolidation, rather than the fragmentation, of existing local government units.

“Bills in Congress proposing to break provinces ultimately will lead to the creation of much weaker provincial governments or local government administrations,” asserted the joint study. “Forty-five up to 55 percent of its annual budget are likely to be allocated for personnel services normally characterized by a bloated local government bureaucracy.”

The original version of the bill aims to take away the fourth and fifth districts of Camarines Sur to create Nueva Camarines.

If the purpose of NuevaCam is to fast-track the economic development of Partido, what else can the Fuentebellas do there that they have not done over the past century to jump-start its progress? True, the Fuentebellas have lorded it over that district for 100 years or so--and all they can show for this stranglehold on power is that most of the municipalities there are the province’s poorest.

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