AROUND 16 months after the bill was filed, the measure creating Barangay Banawa Englis in Cebu City was finally signed into law yesterday.

Chasing President Gloria Arroyo for over a week, Rep. Antonio Cuenco (Cebu City, south district), managed to have her sign the bill he handcarried around noon.

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“I handcarried it since last week and she was able to sign it at noon today (yesterday) didto sa Malacañang. Busy man gud kaayo ang presidente because of her out-of-town engagements,” he said.

With the signing of the bill, what is foremost now is the holding of the plebiscite before the May 10, 2010 national and local elections.

Republic Act 9905, however, will become effective as a law only after 15 days from its publication in two local and two national dailies.

After that, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) must set the referendum, where Guadalupe residents will vote whether or not they agree to the separation of Sitios Banawa ang Englis into a new barangay, within 30 days.

With the expected publication of RA 9905 next week, Cuenco said the plebiscite should be held in February.

Guadalupe Barangay Captain Eugenio Faelnar, in a separate interview, said the barangay officials will campaign against the separation, and will urge residents to vote “no” during the plebiscite.

He said the barangay officials were hurt that among the reasons the Banawa and Englis residents cited for their request is the non-delivery of basic services.

“Unsang gobyernoha ang nahatag tanan? Wala man siguro. Kung wala lang na giingon, diri siguro mi mokampanya (Name me a government that has provided complete services to its constituents. There is none. If they did not say that, we would’ve supported them),” he said.

Antonio Dangcalan, United Banawa Englis Association Inc. (UBEAI) president, for his part, said they are optimistic that Guadalupe residents will vote “yes” to the creation of the new barangay.

But, he said the fight is still half won, so they must still campaign and convince fellow Guadalupe residents to support them.

The clamor for Sitios Banawa ang Englis to separate from Guadalupe started in 1987.

On Dec. 18, 1996, the City Council approved Ordinance 1661, or “An Ordinance Dividing Barangay Guadalupe, Defining and Delineating the Boundaries of the Subdivision, Setting-up and Providing Resources and Assistance to the emerging New Barangay on its Initial Corporate Existence.”

Then city councilors Michael Rama and Ronald Cuenco, Congressman Cuenco’s son, authored the ordinance.

On March 15, 2000, the council approved Ordinance 1817, which amended Section 5 of Ordinance 1661 and reset the plebiscite from May 6, 2000 to May 2002.

The plebiscite never pushed through.

The plebiscite was postponed three times and was eventually not pursued because of objections by Guadalupe officials.

Cuenco filed House Bill 5234 last Sept. 30, 2008 after the council failed to set the plebiscite for Ordinance 1661.

The newly-signed measure specifies 57 “puroks” or neighborhoods under the new barangay, and identifies natural boundaries, specifically the bodies of water like rivers and creeks, to delineate its territory to avoid conflict over jurisdiction.

RA 9905 also defines the territorial boundary of Banawa Englis, and says that the Commission on Elections must “conduct and supervise the plebiscite, to be held in the area affected within 30 days from the effectivity of this Act.”

Cuenco identified the seat of government of the new barangay as the old Sitio Banawa.

He had argued that Guadalupe, the biggest barangay in Cebu City and in the whole Visayas, has a population that is three times bigger than most barangays in the city.

According to the National Statistics Office, the current population of Guadalupe is around 47,700, with Banawa and Englis residents numbering over 23,700.

Dangcalan said Banawa and Englis residents must deliver a solid “yes” vote.

But he said their dream for a separate barangay would not be realized without the help of the rest of the residents of Guadalupe.

That is why, he said, they will campaign hard once the date for the plebiscite is established.

Among the arguments UBEAI presented is that with a new set of barangay officials taking care of Banawa and Englis, the incumbent Guadalupe officials will have fewer constituents to attend to and could therefore give more attention to them.

Fewer residents would also be serviced, including the collection of garbage and maintenance of peace and order, with the reduction of the boundaries of Guadalupe.