Senator Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito has asked the Senate for the swift passage of the bill creating the Negros Island Region (NIR).
In a speech at the Senate, Ejercito, who sponsors the NIR bill, emphasized that the measure is three decades in the making and will benefit Negrenses and Siqiuijodnons for decades to come when it is enacted.
He cited Committee Report No. 177 on Senate Bill No.
2507, which will establish the NIR. It is the substitution of five bills authored by Senate President Miguel Zubiri, Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, and Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Ramon Revilla, Jr., Lito Lapid, and himself.
House Bill No. 7355 was authored by several members of the House of Representatives.
Ejercito pointed out the key points of the bill that
will create the NIR, which will be composed of Negros Occidental, including the City of Bacolod, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor. The province of Siquijor is included due to its historical ties and geographic proximity to the island of Negros.
To ensure the effective delivery of services, six clusters of regional offices will be divided between the two halves of the island. On one hand, Negros Occidental will house the clusters for Agriculture and Land-Related agencies, Peace and Order and Security, and Governance. On the other hand, Negros Oriental will house the clusters on Human Development, Infrastructure, and Industry and labor.
Upon the enactment of the bill, a technical working group (TWG) will be constituted for the transition process. It will include the National Economic and Development Authority, the Department of Budget and Management, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government; representatives for the governors of the three provinces; and representatives of all elected members of the House from those provinces.
"There are three reasons for this division. The first is geography. Look at any relief map, and you will see that a mountain range divides the island. However, the highlands lie more on the Oriental side, while the Occidental side is more blessed with broad plains. Immigration, driven by economic goals, is the second reason. Settlers from Panay converted the broad plains of the Occidental side for the sugar trade. The Oriental side also has fields of sugar, but these were planted by settlers from Cebu. However, there are linguistic overlaps in certain coastal areas," the senator further said.
The Negros island was first split in 1890 in response to pirate raids on the eastern portion of the island, which was too far away from Bacolod. There was a brief effort to reunite the island in 1989, but it was again divided in 1901. These divisions were reflected in the Internal Reorganization Plan of 1972, which divided Negros into two regions.
However, the administrative division of Negros Island has not been conducive to regional development. Efforts to reunify the island have been ongoing since the time of Governors Lito Coscolluela and the late Emilio Macias.
This culminated in President Aquino's executive order creating the NIR.
The current governors of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor - Gov. Bong Lacson, Gov. Chaco Sagarbarria, and Gov. Jake Villa, reiterate the same sentiment. They expressed their full support for this measure in a recent meeting with the Senate President and this representation, Ejercito said.
They cite inefficiency and red tape as the main reason for seeking a united Negros Island. For those on the Oriental side must travel to Cebu. And those from the Occidental side must travel to Iloilo. And that assumes that the seas are calm enough for a trip to be made, Ejercito further explained.
"I feel that this represents the absurdity of the current set-up, and also summarizes the impetus of this measure," Ejercito added.
He added that the creation of the NIR would bring government closer to the people of Negros and Siquijor.
"In doing so, we can help the Negrense and Siquijdadnon people tell a different story. One where government services are rolled-out on a red carpet instead of requiring travel by roll-on,roll off vessel. And where services are delivered on-site, from sea to shining sea, instead of causing a coast-to-coast inconvenience,” he said.
He further said that it will also result in improved peace and order for Negros since the island will be placed under one command.
This includes catching the illegal loggers and poachers who prey upon the institutional fragmentation of the island. Negrenses can be assured that their mountains and forests will be better protected, he added.*