Academics Weigh in on ‘One Negros Island Region’ Proposal
Are you for or against the “One Negros Island Region” proposal?
Politicians from both sides of the question approached Silliman University for a stand, hopefully to endorse their side. In order to get the public pulse, President Dr. Ben S. Malayang III commissioned some faculty members to analyze the implications of the proposal and also to do an opinion poll in Negros Oriental.
The poll revealed that more than half of the people (58%) did not know of the proposal. But of those who did, 43% were against, 26% were in favor, and 31% were undecided. Sixty-nine out of 100 people in the survey were unemployed and believed the government was not doing anything about this “very serious problem” of unemployment.
The Silliman team has recommended that poverty, the environment, climate change, and social acceptability be considered in the decision to accept or reject the One Negros Island Region.
The team is composed of Dr. Enrique G. Oracion, Research Director; Dr. Earl Jude Cleope, Dean, College of Education; Prof. Roy Olsen de Leon, Chair, Biology Department; Prof. Wilma Tejero, Chair, Economics Department; and Atty. Tabitha Tinagan, Dean, School of Public Affairs and Governance.
Professor Tejero said, based on the National Statistical Coordination Board report for 2012, Negros Oriental is Number 9 among the Top 10 poorest provinces in the country, with more than half of the people unable to provide for their basic needs. This, despite belonging to Region 7 (Central Visayas) where the cities of Cebu and Tagbilaran are listed by the Asian Institute of Management as among the top most economically competitive cities in the country.
Noting the Aquino government’s anti-poverty action plans, Professor Tejero wrote: “To fight poverty in the province, creation of more economic opportunities for the local residents is most wanted.”
She said this can be done with massive investments in industry-based activities, such as manufacturing, to provide poor farm workers the “opportunity to shift from low value-adding agriculture to higher value manufacturing and export-processing activities.”
Professor Tejero added that Central Visayas has been the fourth largest contributor to the country’s economy — topped only by the National Capital Region, CALABARZON and Central Luzon. The main growth engines of Central Visayas are industry (construction and manufacturing), which is one third of the region’s economy and its fastest growing sector.
It is followed by services (trade, real estate and business services outsourcing), comprising more than 56% of the economy. Tourism is also an important services sector in the region.
Contrast this with Negros Oriental which is largely agricultural. Sixty percent of the population outside of Dumaguete survive on fishing and farming.
“And because the agriculture is characterized by low production and productivity, many of the residents of the province live below the poverty line,” Professor Tejero said.
She attributes low productivity to “limited farm-to-market roads, inaccessibility of the farmers to big markets, low market and bargaining power of the farmers due to absence of economies of scale.”
“The poverty incidence of 50 percent… is very alarming, suggesting that genuine livelihood-support programs and agri-infra development projects must be prioritized by government leaders.”
This is aggravated by the people’s vulnerability to natural disasters. Many farmers in five northern towns of Negros Oriental have yet to recover from the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that struck the area in February 2012.
In terms of the environment, there is logic in an integrated management of the entire Negros Island, said De Leon. The island is home to many native animal species now threatened with extinction (spotted deer, bleeding-heart pigeon, fruit dove, to mention a few), and experience had shown that coordination of conservation proved difficult and unsustainable when done between the two provinces and regions.
Management of the Mt. Kanlaon National Park, which straddles Negros Occidental and Oriental, would improve with the move to unite Negros into one island region, Professor De Leon said.
Furthermore, four river basins cut across both provinces (Ilog, Hilabangan, Pagatban, and Tayabanon rivers). They provide water for domestic use, harbor aquatic organisms and are important sources of water irrigation.
“The need for an integrated river basin management plan and development cannot be overemphasized,” Professor De Leon said.
Citing the harrowing experience of Leyte during Typhoon Yolanda, he pointed out the failure of governance, despite the presence of one regional center in Leyte. “The situation could have been worst if the regional center was in a different island.”
“A unified Negros Island region may mean a significant improvement in the infrastructure development in the island that can improve the ‘climate change proofing’ of the island and make efficient the delivery of goods and services especially during calamities,” Professor De Leon said.
All of the Silliman researchers said the One Negros Island debate should transcend the personal political agendas of the political contenders. Dr. Cleope noted that historically, the political division, then unification, then re-division of Negros Island had always been about the leaders wanting more power for themselves. (By Ms Celia E. Acedo)