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'Palawon't': Residents reject proposal to divide province

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'Palawon't': Residents reject proposal to divide province
Voters in Palawan line up at a polling center to get their temperatures checked before they are allowed to cast their votes.
Twitter / COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez

MANILA, Philippines — Residents of Palawan voted to reject a move to divide the province into Palawan del Norte, Palawan del Sur, and Palawan Oriental in a plebiscite, the results of which were certified on Tuesday.

Per the tally of the provincial board of canvassers, 172,304 voted "No" to splitting the province against 122,223 who were for the move. 

In a 5 p.m. update, the Commission on Elections said 22 out of 23 municipalities were already canvassed, with voter turnout at 60.06%.

"The people of Palawan exercised their right to suffrage and decided their own fate," COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez wrote on Twitter. "With a 60% voter turnout, the people have spoken loud and clear."

Had it succeeded, the province would have been divided into Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental and Palawan del Sur under a law signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2019. 

With partial results on Monday indicating failure of the proposition, Palawan Gov. Jose Alvarez conceded its defeat, saying also that it would be a loss for hopes to improve the province's economy.

Those opposed to the split had warned that dividing the Philippines' "last ecological frontier" into three smaller provinces would mean huge economic costs and would pose a threat to the environment.

"The division of Palawan is a political agenda," said lawyer Gerthie Anda of the Save Palawan Movement in February. "This is costly [and] dangerous to the environment and culture. This was not studied and there was no consultation that is fair and sufficient."

Palawan has long been known for its rich natural resources and diverse flora and fauna, which also happen to be a draw for tourists.

UNESCO said that the province is home to 105 out of 475 already threatened species in the country, of which, 67 are endemic to the Philippines.

COMELEC over the weekend said the Palawan plebiscite will be viewed as a test on how the country could conduct elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters who turned out had their temperature checked and screened for COVID-19 symptoms. They were also required to wear face masks. 

Those with temperature of above 37.5 degrees Celsius or with symptoms were isolated in separate polling precints, where election personnel were in full protective equipment.

"With the successful conclusion of the Palawan plebiscite, the Philippines joins the ranks of democracies that, despite the pandemic, have conducted free and fair elections — and with higher than expected voter turnouts," Jimenez added. — Christian Deiparine with reports from Xave Gregorio

COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS PALAWAN
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