Negros Island Region, another case of Gerrymandeering?

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

The revival of the Negros Island Region is another case of political expediency over national interests. The strong political pressures of the sugar barons and the hacienderos of Negros, supported by an Araneta Ilongga first lady, has created another ?20 billion national expenditures to fund more than 30 regional offices for national agencies. This is another example of gerrymandering. And it’s unconscionable, considering the national debt of ?15.20 trillion.

Gerrymandering is political manipulation of geographical boundaries and electoral districts to give one political party, like the administration coalition, or one specific socio-economic sector, like the powerful Sugar Bloc, an unfair advantage over other sectors and rival political groups. The term was coined from the manipulation of former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry whose administration enacted a law that refined the political districts of his state in a convoluted form that resembles a salamander, thus the name gerrymandering. The new configuration gave advantage over the then-combined Democrats and Republicans against the Federalists.

This political move was started with EO 183, by President PNoy on May 29, 2015, due to pressure from the group of his uncle in the Danding Cojuangco side that controls thousands of hectares of haciendas in Negros Occidental. The NIR was established with only the two provinces of Negros Occidental and Oriental. Because these provinces didn’t support the candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte, on August 9, 2017 he abolished the NIR through EO 38.

Just last week, on June 1, 2024, President BBM signed RA 12000, authored by Senator JV Ejercito (whose mom is Ilongga, by the way). And so evidence is palpable that these moves have the same motives: partisan politics. National interests have nothing to do with them.

The unkindest cut of all is that the tiny province of Siquijor, the small home of simple fisherfolks and farmers, was lumped with the land of sugar barons and lords and ladies of landed mestizos and mestizas. Siquijodnons will have to travel all the way from the Larena to Bacolod, instead of just travelling a short distance to nearby Dumaguete and Cebu. This move has emasculated Region 7, with only Cebu and Bohol remaining, and with Cebu also planning to establish a One Cebu Region. If Negros can do it, why not the richest province, the cradle of Christianity, and the center of excellence in tourism, education, and shipping. That will make Bohol, another standalone region. If Ilonggos can have their cake and eat it too, why not the Cebuanos and the Boholanos? What is sauce to the goose should be sauce to the gander too.

The new region will have three provinces, 44 municipalities, 1,353 barangays, one highly-urbanized city (Bacolod) and, hold your breath, 18 component cities, namely Bago, Bais, Bayawan, Cadiz, Canlaon, Dumaguete, Escalante, Guihulngan, Himamaylan, Kabankalan, La Carlota, Sagay, San Carlos, Silay, Sipalay, Talisay, Tanjay, and Victorias. It has a combined land area of 14,140.74 square kilometers, and a combined population of 4,159,557 based on 2020 census. Negros Occidental dominates with 48.6% of the total population in 12 component cities, 19 municipalities, and 601 barangays. Negros Oriental has 34.4% of the population in six component cities, 19 municipalities, and 557 barangays. Siquijor, the poorest and smallest, only has a population of 103,395 or barely 2.5% in six municipalities and 134 tiny barangays. Bacolod is treated separately with a population of 600,783 and growing fast, with 61 barangays.

The governor of Negros Occidental is Eugenio Jose Lacson, with Jeffrey Ferrer as vice governor. Because of the murder of Governor Roel Degamo and a series of deaths among the successors, Negros Oriental's sitting governor now is Manuel Sagarbarria with Jaime Reyes as vice governor. Siquijor's governor is Jake Vincent Villa with Mei Ling Brown as vice governor. The representatives of the six districts are Gerardo Valmayor Jr., Alfredo Marañon III, Francisco Benitez, Juliet Marie Ferrer, Emiliano Yulo, and Mercedes Alvarez. The three representing Negros Oriental are Jocelyn Limkaichong, Manuel Sagarbarria, and Arnulfo Teves who was expelled by Congress. The lone district of Siquijor is represented by Zaldy Villa and Bacolod City has Greg Gasataya. These are the powerful elite who want to establish their own turfs in the name of unadulterated politics.

To lump Siquijor with the two Negros provinces into a region is practically reducing Siquijor into a nonentity, to a level of a small appendix in the land of the sugar lords and barons. The nation, as a whole, will bear another ?20 billion at the very least as incremental administrative cost of manning this latest version of gerrymandering.

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