Sep 16, 2020 @ 12:33
SC junks challenge to Palawan division, OKs exclusion of Puerto Princesa from plebiscite
The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed a petition questioning the law proposing the division of Palawan into three provinces, affirming the exclusion of Puerto Princesa City from the plebiscite planned this year.
In a recent 19-page en banc decision, the SC said the current provincial capital’s status as a Highly Urbanized City (HUC) since 2007 meant it became a “distinct political entity independent and autonomous from the province of Palawan.”
Thus, the city “can no longer be considered a ‘political unit directly affected’ by the proposed division of Palawan into three provinces,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Andres Reyes, Jr.
This meant the city’s qualified voters, including petitioners led by Save Palawan co-convenor Cynthia del Rosario, were “properly excluded” from the coverage of the plebiscite set by Republic Act (RA) Number 11259.
The SC noted that Section 452(c) of the Local Government Code (LGC) provided that “qualified voters of highly urbanized cities shall remain excluded from voting for elective provincial officials.”
This showed that HUCs were “intended to function as first-level political and administrative subdivisions in their own right, on par with provinces.”
Even though Section 89 of Puerto Princesa’s city charter allowed its residents to vote for Palawan’s provincial officials, the SC said the city’s conversion into an HUC superseded this provision and “effectively severed” its political ties to the province.
The petitioners argued that RA 11259 would redraw the boundaries of Palawan’s third district, which is currently composed of Puerto Princesa and the municipality of Aborlan. Hence, they claimed the city would be directly affected by the division and should be involved in the plebiscite.
But, the SC said the realignment of legislative district boundaries “does not require electoral approval through a plebiscite.” Besides, Puerto Princesa’s territorial jurisdiction would not be reduced even if Aborlan joined the district of the proposed Palawan del Sur province.
The petitioners also claimed that dividing Palawan would cause the relocation of 1,400 permanent employees and 7,000 job order personnel of the current provincial government and affect consumer spending in Puerto Princesa.
However, the SC said “the holistic consideration of the economic effects” of changes in the local government units (LGUs) is “a matter of policy in which the judiciary must defer” to the Executive and Congress.
As an HUC, Puerto Princesa would still be entitled to impose its taxes and generate revenue for itself, as well as receive its own internal revenue allotment (IRA), the decision pointed out.
The law, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on April 5, 2019, proposed the division of Palawan into the provinces of Palawan del Sur as its successor, as well as Palawan del Norte and Palawan Oriental.
The plebiscite involving the qualified voters of municipalities outside Puerto Princesa was scheduled on May 11, 2020, but was postponed because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.