A West Philippine Sea Province? I doubt it.

West Philippine Sea

On March 14, 2015, Monsignor Jerry Bitoon, country  representative of the Filipino diaspora in Italy to the  European Nerwork of Filipino Diaspora (ENFiD), posted on  Facebook the plan of ENFiD-Italy to send a petition letter to the Congress of the Philippines (which refers to both the Senate and House of Representatives) lobbying for  the creation of an “Authority that will oversee the  governance, protection and development of the WEST  PHILIPPINE SEA, paving for a creation of WEST PHILIPPINE  SEA PROVINCE.”

Monsignor Bitoon was seeking support to the petition which  includes launching a signature campaign.

(A screen grab of Italy-based, Msgr. Jerry Bitoon’s Facebook post.)

This plan is with regard to the continuous intrusion into  and violation of the territorial integrity of the Philippines around the West Philippine Sea by China. This is a by-product of the frustration of Filipinos living abroad to the Philippine government’s seemingly passive treatment of this issue. Also, such petition will serve as a notice to the government that the Filipino diaspora is concerned about the “land-and-sea grabbing” perpetrated by China.

This move is a noble and welcome undertaking. But is it worthwhile? I do not think so.

What the petition ultimately seeks for is the creation of the “WEST PHILIPPINE SEA PROVINCE.” In a layman’s understanding, what this means is the creation of a separate local government unit (LGU) that will eventually govern, oversee and develop the area which we claim as ours.

There is no need to create this LGU because most of the contested land and sea mass are within the jurisdiction of the Province of Palawan. The town of Kayalaan, which is part of the Spratlys region, is part of Palawan. Filipino fishermen from Palawan ang neighboring LGUs fish around the region (sometimes we read or hear news about Chinese vessels shooing them away). There are also soldiers and coast guard personnel patrolling the area as part of their sworn duties.

Further, a new province to be called West Philippine Sea is not feasible and not possible.

The Local Government Code provides the requisite criteria to be met for the creation of each type of LGU: barangay, municipality, city, highly urbanized city, and province.

For a province, the following must be complied with:

SEC. 461. Requisites for Creation. – (a) A province may be created if it has an average annual income, as certified by the Department of Finance, of not less than Twenty million pesos (P20,000,000.00) based on 1991 constant prices and  either of the following requisites:

(i) a contiguous territory of at least two thousand (2,000) square kilometers, as certified by the Lands Management Bureau; or,

(ii) a population of not less than two hundred fifty thousand (250,000) inhabitants as certified by the National Statistics Office;

Provided, That, the creation thereof shall not reduce the land area, population, and income of the original unit or units at the time of said creation to less than the minimum requirements prescribed herein.

(b) The territory need not be contiguous if it comprises two (2) or more islands or is separated by a chartered city or cities which do;

(c) The average annual income shall include the income accruing to the general fund, exclusive of special funds, trust funds, transfers, and non-recurring income.

Based on the above, the law requires a new province to have either:

(1)an annual income of at least P20 Million AND a contiguous territory of 2,000 or two or more islands; or

(2)an annual income of at least P20 Million AND a population of not less than 250,000 inhabitants.

For the first, there is no problem with the territory. The islands and islets that will comprise the province are determinable.

But what about the income? Where on Earth will this new LGU get a P20-million income?

Proceeding to item no. 2, both requisites cannot be met. How can there be an income in an isolated group of islands with no economic activity? There are also no inhabitants to speak of. If there is any, maybe there are one or two and worse, they could be Chinese! If there are Filipinos therein, they could be transients only.

Although the new province may be carved out from neighboring LGUs, the law states that this must not reduce the income, territory and population of the original locality to less than the minimum requirement.

There are also legal procedures mandated to be followed. There must be congressional committee hearings to be conducted. Aside from it, there must be a public hearing in the areas directly affected as part of the Constitutionally entrenched requirement of due process.

And the most important one is the approval of the people to create the new province in a plebiscite in the localities “directly affected”. The Supreme Court emphasized that the constituents of both the new locality and the original one where the former was carved from must participate in such plebiscite.

However, how can there be a plebiscite if there is no voting populace?

Thereafter, the officials of the provincial, municipal and barangay governments (it is ridiculous to have only a province without towns and barangays) must be filled in either by an interim appointment or election (depending upon the transitory provision of the charter).

As a consequence, there will be at least one congressional seat in the new province. Hiring of employees is also a concern.

There must also be a designated seat of the provincial government and the building of the provincial capitol and other items of capital outlay.

As such, the new province must have its own budget for its personal services and operating expenses. The national government will also give its share in the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) funds.

As can be gleaned from the foregoing discussion, creating a province is not as easy as cooking pansit bihon. Passing a law for its creation is only a part and parcel but the greater bulk of the work is done before and after it’s deliberation and passage.