Breaktime: Distaste of things to comeBy Conrado Banal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
All along, the Commission on Elections could apparently tell the future. No other than the Comelec chair, Sixto Brillantes, showed us that the body could already taste some things yet to come.
We had a gleam of this supernatural power of the Comelec from recent reports, quoting Brillantes that the poll body would extend the deadline for the filing of candidacies for the elections next year. It could even be way beyond the October 5 deadline set by the commission, perhaps even until December. This would be only five short months before the elections in May 2013.
Brillantes reportedly said the Comelec was willing to give the extension. Give to whom? Obviously it had something to do with some maneuvers of certain politicos to rip apart Camarines Sur, the province known simply as CamSur.
As we all know, old-time politicos now on their last term in public office have been straining to carve a new province, to be called Nueva Camarines, out of tourism hot spot CamSur. For this, they have been pushing for a bill in Congress. The bill had breezed through the House of Representatives, although it has been going through rough times in the Senate.
Certain senators found the bill too distasteful. Thus, if indeed it will pass through the Senate, it may not happen in the near future, although based on the pronouncement of our clairvoyant Brillantes, the Comelec was already anticipating its imminent approval.
As of the original Comelec deadline last Friday, the mangling of CamSur still looked too far off, what with senators still wrangling over the bill. Thus, even if the split-up would happen, those old-time politicos could no longer run for office in the new province. They would fail to beat the Comelec deadline.
The Comelec, in extending the deadline, would only do so for those politicos. Thanks of course to the special accommodation courtesy of their hero, Brillantes himself.
But as I said, the coveted split-up and, thus, the need for candidates in the new province may still have a long way to go.
For one, the bill must earn the signature of our leader, Benigno Simeon (aka BS), who has shown the public so far that he could be adamant—even hard-headed—on certain issues, as long as he believes that his stand was the right one.
Perhaps he already knows that the move to split CamSur really never found favor among business groups, NGOs and even academic institutions.
The CamSur Chamber of Commerce and Industry, or the CSCCI, has issued a resolution opposing the move. The group never wanted to tear apart the province, period.
Here is a quote from their resolution: “As businessmen, we believe in the principle that if your business is big, you have to expand and not divide, which will weaken your credit line and reduce profit.”
In a joint study, the UP Center for Local and Regional Governance and the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance echoed the concern of the business groups. The study concluded that the people of CamSur would suffer with the huge reduction in territory, political clout and, above all, income. The province would have to share the money it gets from the government, called Internal Revenue Allotment, or IRA, with the new province, Nueva Camarines.
Thus, the study said, the CamSur provincial government would have to raise tax rates or even impose new ones to offset the IRA loss. Would the business sector in the province be willing to accept additional taxes?
The study also said the creation of Nueva Camarines would cost, at the very least, some P280 million for the lot of the new provincial capitol and construction of even a small building. On top of that, the administrative cost should come up to about P465 million in the first year alone. This is already equivalent to one-third of the IRA of CamSur this year.
The big idea to create a new province—by taking it out of one or only two districts in the mother CamSur—can cost almost P800 million at the very least.
And so all other provinces may suffer cuts in their IRA, estimated by the UP study at some P188 million in the first year alone, because of the need to allocate more money for CamSur and the new province.
Yet another study, done by the Local Government Development Foundation and the German foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, has been calling for the “consolidation” of LGUs, rather than “fragmentation.”
The study said: “Bills in Congress proposing to break provinces ultimately will lead to the creation of much weaker provincial governments or local government administrations.”
Then it adds: “Forty-five up to fifty-five percent of its annual budget are likely to be allocated for personnel services normally characterized by a bloated local government bureaucracy.”
Let us say that our leader BS would suddenly decide that his administration should spend a fantastic sum of P800 million, just as start-up cost to create the new province. The question is this: Will the maneuver find favor with the people of CamSur?
The last time I checked, the dubious practice of breaking up provinces, known in political lingo as “gerrymandering,” would still need to pass through a plebiscite. This is always a long and costly process. That is why, from what I remember, the Comelec in the past preferred to hold plebiscites to coincide with local elections. It was a sure way for the commission to save oodles of money.
Do you think, therefore, that the clairvoyant Comelec would do everything in its power to hurry up the plebiscite for Nueva Camarines, even considering that the preparation for such an important poll would be long and tedious?
And supposing that, by some lucky unforeseen chance, Comelec could fast-forward the plebiscite, how come Brillantes seemed so certain that the CamSur people would vote for the split-up, and so he would extend the deadline for the sake of those old-time politicos?
Yet, in the survey conducted by the Philippine Survey and Research Center, or the PRSC—done a couple of months ago in CamSur, sampling more than a thousand voters in the province—some 92 percent of the respondents said they were aware of the issues on the proposed division of their province.
Well, 73 percent of respondents were against it.
One of their reasons was, aside from the needless expenditures, the perception that the division would only benefit certain politicos whose terms were expiring.
The report quoting Brillantes on the deadline extension surprised even Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the local government committee, who reportedly said that, in effect, the Comelec would be bending its own rules. He also said he had requested Brillantes to issue a categorical statement on his position on the CamSur division, implying that Brillantes could be favoring the side of the old-time politicos.
In other words, how can the Comelec then conduct a fair plebiscite?
Perhaps Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said it more clearly: “This bill is gerrymandering in its worst kind, particularly one that would provide for new elective positions to accommodate two three-term congressmen.”
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