"LET'S aside politics and look what's good for our constituents because we are public servants. Election is over and we have to put our constituents at the forefront of public service."

This was the reaction of Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo Abelardo Benitez on Thursday, February 2, when asked regarding the opposition of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo on the establishment of the Negros Island Region.

Degamo's opposition to NIR was reportedly due to politics as all three congressmen from his province, who were not his political allies, are backing the NIR.

Benitez also revealed that they continue to work out for NIR or sub-regions where satellite offices of regional offices will be established here so that Negrenses would no longer travel to Iloilo for their respective transactions, same with the people in Negros Oriental so they won't need to go to Cebu.

The report will be submitted to Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos.

Benitez said the obstacle facing the establishment of NIR is budget, that's why they are still discussing the possibility that President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. would issue an executive order to create NIR or to create sub-regions.

On the counter-proposal of Degamo to create separate several localities in Negros Occidental to create a new province so Negros Oriental can get an equal voting at the Regional Development Council, Benitez said that creating a new province will take a stringent process including a referendum which may not even take place in the present administration.

"What is the reason of his proposal because if we will know his concerns and we can address it in a faster way, we can move forward," Benitez said.

Meanwhile, Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson assured Thursday that Negros Oriental will never be left behind under the NIR.

Lacson gave the assurance a day after meeting with Degamo in Dumaguete City on Wednesday, February 2.

"I went there to listen to Gov. Degamo. He reiterated on why he is against the NIR, such as language and cultural differences. Those are small issues that can be easily addressed. His point that he brought up during our meeting was 'equal footing,'" he pointed out.

Negros Occidental is a “dominant province,” Lacson said because it's a bigger province, (but) Negros Oriental will not get outvoted in the Regional Development Council (RDC)."

He told Degamo that "we will not oppose what he wants because he knows his province than we do. In the same manner, I will not oppose it because of respect."

"Outright, I did not reject his idea of a new Negros province. But I think we should address the issue of equal footing. We don't want them to feel that we will overpower him because we're the bigger province," he added.

The governor said that when Siquijor will join Negros, "we should assure them that we are here to help all the provinces under the new region."

As to the chairmanship of the RDC, Lacson said that it can be made in rotation among the provinces.

He added that Degamo also told him of a study by Silliman University that NIR allegedly is "disadvantageous to Negros Oriental."

"I asked for a copy of the study. In case the Senate will ask us, we can answer," he said.

Lacson added that he will hold talks with Degamo in the next couple of weeks to further discuss the NIR issue.

He also said that there are other ways to assure them (Negros Oriental) that they "will not be left behind.'

"We shall work together especially us who belong to Negros island. We shall continue together to reach the full potential," he also said.

However, he said the creation of a new province "might delay the process of creation of the NIR."

"I will make a report and talk with our district representatives, public officials and maybe the business sector," Lacson said.

He also said that he will not comment on their local politics which is "something they have to settle among themselves."*