The Negros Island Region Consultative Forum held in Bayawan City last January 29, 2015 was an eye opener. Last year, a similar activity was conducted in Dumaguete City, Mabinay and Guihulngan City to provide a better perspective of the pros and cons of the issue among Oriental Negrenses. Noticeably, while Mayor Ismael Martinez took a neutral stand in his interesting and amusing Opening Message, all the officials from the Oriental side headed by Congressman Pryde Henry Teves and his counterpart in the 2nd District Congressman George Arnaiz are all in favor of the One Negros Island One Region debate.
Gov. Alfredo Marañon, a leading proponent of the initiative headed the delegation from Negros Occidental. However, much to the dismay of everyone Gov. Roel Degamo or his representatives, who are against it, were conspicuously absent to take a stand on the issue. Nevertheless, Dr. Enrique Oracion, a faculty member of Silliman University provided the arguments for those against the idea to help provide the huge audience an enlightened opinion.
Dr. Oracion, a faculty member of the SU Department of Sociology and Anthropology aptly discussed the issue from a psycho-historical perspective. Negros Island, the 4th largest island in the archipelago was one political unit before the coming of the Spaniards. Later on, in 1890, the Spanish Gov. Gen. divided Negros into Negros Occidental (with Bacolod as its capital) and Negros Oriental (with Tanjay as its first capital and then Dumaguete) to make it easier to manage.
One can see immediately that how the island was deceptively divided, with Negros Occidental approximately 20% bigger than Negros Oriental, constitutes a major source of animosity. Add to this the language barrier, the air of superiority of the Ilongos and the clannish attitude of people in the two provinces (pervasive also among the other regions in the country) and you have differences that are historical and social and hence not easily reconcilable. But Dr. Oracion postulated that all of this can be harmonized if we answer these questions, "Is it necessary?" "What are the benefits?" and "Can it be done?" with a "Yes."
Congressman Henry Pryde Teves in his message hit the nail on the head when he said, "We (the two provinces) are all victims here and in order to move forward should start with the noblest of intentions and mutual trust." Unlike the present set up where only the regional cities of Cebu and Ilo-ilo get the bigger slice of the pie, a one Negros Island region will provide equal footing in terms of priority and equitable distribution of projects and, since we share the same resources, should plan and act as one for programs in investments, infrastructures, transportation, disaster mitigation and other aspects of governance to boost development.
On the financial side, the required budget of 40 billion pesos for the regionalization of Negros Island is a major sticking point, but Mr. Eduard Du of the Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce proposed a solution. He said there will be a transition phase of about ten years prior to full regionalization, in which during this period some provincial offices shall also serve as sub-regional offices in order to cut on cost in infrastructure and salaries. With the ASEAN Economic Community coming up in December 2015, Mr. Du argued that integration is the current trend in order to boost development.
In the end, after all questions of skeptics have been answered by the pro One Negros Island Region resource speakers composed of Congressman Pryde Henry Teves, BM Arnolfo Teves, Jr., Congressman George Arnaiz and Mr. Eduardo Du, it seems there is no iota of doubt that the pro camp's aspiration, with Gov. Marañon even foreseeing that the two provinces will have a "Negros Island Hymn" by next year, will become a reality.
With approval of the initiative through an Executive Order by PNOY a done deal, so they say in the Occidental side, the Negrenses can now start in putting their act together and jointly fulfill the promise of hope, peace and a better life for all. One Negros Island One Region, let's do it.