Tell it to SunStar: Sugbo-ak

THOUGHTS about two Cebu provinces co-existing harmoniously with each other bathed in a flourishing economy flashed scenes in my mind as I read the column of Atty. Pachico A. Seares “News Sense” on “Sonny’s Risk In Proposing A Second Province In Cebu (SunStar 04.09.19).” By “Sonny,” he means Toledo City Mayor John Henry Osmeña, who’s running for congressman in the third district.

In that column, Atty. Seares wrote that “Mayor Sonny may be seen as reviving an unpopular plan, one that might turn off, instead of excite, voters. In a May 20, 2013 column (“Proposed Mactan Province, shades of Sugbo-ak,”) which recalled the 2007 killing of “Sugbo-ak,” I (Atty. Seares) wrote: ‘(Sugbo-ak) would’ve butchered Cebu and created fiefdoms for other Cebu leaders who couldn’t capture the Capitol. Strong public opposition, hyped up by the media, that resented the Machiavellian bent, killed the plan and helped boost the political stock of Governor Gwen.’” That was then. It is different now.

In retrospect, the idea to split Cebu into three provinces may just seem to have been too ambitious and, as proven by events, was inadmissible to the Cebuanos’ psyche. Particularly, the opposing side saw the proposal in “Sugbo-ak” as too glaring as to reveal some shades of personal interests from its authors, aside from putting to risk the economic viability of one Cebu. The opposition’s logic at the time was too good to be ignored. It could mean that the leaders at that time were too well intentioned as to forget about personal interests and think and work only for the common good. And that dividing Cebu into three provinces could spell the death knell to its otherwise robust economy.

But times are changing and needs and circumstances vary. Whereas, before, the opposition to Sugbo-ak fought tooth-and-nail to see its demise on ground that it would only serve the personal ambition and interests of its authors, that reasoning or the logic behind it was clearly demolished by the mere fact that since the first election after the passage of the Local Government Code in 1991, only one family name had lorded it over the Capitol. The political dominance would only end in 2010 when another family name was elected governor. The question to be asked is: “Why show interest to run repeatedly for the same position for the longest time if the person running or the family represented doesn’t have personal interest in it?”

I find the proposal of Mayor Sonny Osmeña to work for the creation of Occidental Cebu, if elected to Congress, worthy of serious consideration by the Cebuanos. If realized, an Occidental Cebu would foster a) easy governance b) manageability c) accountability and d) economic development. With a smaller area to oversee and a lesser population to deal with, the officials would have ample time to respond to issues and problems confronting the locality. Conversely, people wouldn’t have a hard time pinpointing responsibility and demanding accountability in case of neglect or wrongdoing. Besides, with the official’s energy and time spent only in a small territory the result in terms of socio-economic development could be massive and inclusive.

To help us arrive at discernment on the proposed Occidental Cebu’s creation, a cursory look at the physical and economic existence of the places it sought to embrace, namely: Tuburan, Asturias, Balamban, Pinamungahan, Aloguinsan, Barili and the city of Toledo, is imperative. By comparison, these six towns and a city are far behind their counterparts in what would remain as Cebu province, in terms of economic and infrastructure development. Tell-tale signs of such disparity are evident as one sets foot on the rural setting that defines these places. This could be explained by the simple fact that these towns and a city are several hours away from the seat of the provincial government. We know from experience that business and people tend to gravitate at or near the center of power for sheer convenience.

With Occidental Cebu as a province and its seat of power established, say, in Toledo City, what follows like moth-to-a-lamp would be the convergence of people in the city to work, do business or live within. As the center of government for the new province, Toledo City will soon be bursting with trade and economic activities and become highly urbanized. Consequently, trade and commercial activities will spread over the neighboring towns creating in them vibrant and, hopefully, sustainable economies. Not far enough will be the emergence of a metropolitan center no different from Metro Cebu, which can be used to funnel growth and development to its member-areas or municipalities. Being a province on its own, Occidental Cebu will have its own sources of revenue and a proportionate share of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) to cover expenditures for infrastructure needs like the opening of or widening or concreting of roads and construction of bridges.

In passing, the Cebuanos could learn from the Davao experience as it mulled over the proposal for the creation of Occidental Cebu. Originally, there was only one Davao province. But as time went by and progress escalated, politicians in the place toyed with the idea of breaking up the province into two, then into three, and more to absorb the continuing flow of business and economic opportunities. Now, the Davao Region is one big, dynamic economy comprised of five provinces of 1) Compostela Valley 2) Davao del Norte 3) Davao Oriental 4) Davao del Sur of which Davao City is the capital and 5) Davao Occidental. As if to prove the naysayers wrong, the Davao provinces’ economies grew remarkably well after the divisions and seemed poised to continue the momentum as city after city likewise emerged as an aftermath.

It could be argued then, that dividing or splitting a province will not stifle economic growth but rather stimulate and sustain it. As to personal interest on the part of the author, banish the thought because it will always be there. Politicians need to project their images, protect their names to survive. It is a question though of how they pursue their personal interests while tending to or serving the public’s interests. It appeared that some were doing it discreetly and with less damage to the public coffer, but obviously others did it big time and almost without restraint, the reason why they’re languishing in jail, dismissed or convicted. Yes to Sugbo-ak. Yes to Occidental Cebu.


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