Saturday July 21, 2018

Negros Occidental lawmaker: No direction yet for NIR

TALISAY CITY -- The fate of Negros Island Region (NIR) remains uncertain as there are still government agencies that do not recognize its existence.

“As of now, there is no direction yet on how to treat NIR. We’re still in the status quo mode,” Negros Occidental Third District Representative Alfredo Benitez said Wednesday.

“We’ll leave it to that for 2018,” he added.

Benitez said the region continues to function even if it’s not included in the national budget since its establishment in 2015.

The budget of NIR is sourced from the previous regions of its two provinces – Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

“There’s a strong resistance to the creation of NIR. I’d rather it remains a status quo and stay alive,” the lawmaker said.

Benitez said the lobby to retain the NIR has to start from President Rodrigo Duterte.

“It has to start from the top. Until we can convince them, don’t get me wrong. There are still moves to re-establish NIR, but the lobbying would have to be with President directly,” he said.

He said the bill creating NIR authored by Abang Lingkod party-list Representative Stephen Paduano was already passed on first reading and was referred to the House committee on local government.

“It has a chance to pass in the Lower House. It has to be the Senate and the President we eventually have to reckon with,” Benitez said.

Sugar industry fund

Meanwhile, Benitez said the National Government is set to allocate an additional P1.6 billion for the Sugar and Industry Development Act (Sida) next year.

The Sida has an annual P2-billion appropriation for the sugar industry.

The fund, including the P1 billion for infrastructures, comprised the balance that was not included in the P2-billion annual allocation for two years, the lawmaker said.

Benitez, who spoke at the Sugar Regulatory Administration-Mill District Development Committee Summit in Talisay City yesterday, said he already asked the SRA to identify the projects.

Election plans

Meanwhile, Benitez said he has yet to decide on what to do in the next elections.

Should he run for governor, his running mate has to have the consensus of the group, he said.

“We have to make sure that all parties are actually considered. Whoever will be chosen as vice governor won’t be my personal preference, it would be a preference that would have a win-win selection of all parties involved,” said Benitez, who heads the Love Negros party.

He said he has talked with rival United Negros Alliance leader Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr.

“We would like what’s best for the province. His contention, if there is an opportunity that would give us better leverage to run for national office, Negros will be better off with a person in a higher office. Our discussions are always on the premise of what’s good for Negros. In that case, we have no conflict,” he said.

Even if Benitez and Marañon have different local parties, they both belong to the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan.