Villafuertes square off at Senate CamSur hearingBy TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Camarines Sur Gov. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr. openly tangled with his father, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte Sr., at a Senate hearing on Thursday on the proposed breakup of the province to create a new one, Nueva Camarines.
But the Commission on Elections (Comelec) virtually doused cold water on the wrangling of the Villafuertes when it declared that it had no funds for the conduct of any plebiscite this year, and was prioritizing the automation of the 2013 elections.
Proponents and oppositors of House Bill No. 4820 seeking the creation of the province of Nueva Camarines presented their positions at the hearing by the committees on local government, constitutional amendments and electoral reforms.
Learned from father
The exchanges between the governor, who is fiercely opposing the breakup, and his father, who along with Camarines Sur Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella is pushing for it, became the highlight of the hearing, and at some point reached fever-pitch.
Both claimed their own respective supporters.
“Everything I learned I learned from my father. This is a contentious issue,” the governor said, his voice rising. “We are last-termers here. Let’s just fight it out in the election.”
His father shot back: “The trouble is, he doesn’t fight me. He’s a lame duck.” The exchange drew chuckles from the senators.
The House of Representatives has passed the bill with a vote of 299 against one. The proposed new province will combine the fourth district with 10 towns and the fifth district with six towns and one city from the 35-town and two-city Camarines Sur province.
The new province will include the towns of Caramoan, Garchitorena, Lagonoy, Presentacion, San Jose, Siruma, Tinambac, Goa, Tigaon and Sangay of the fourth district and the towns of Baao, Balatan, Bato, Bula, Buhi, Nabua and Iriga City of the fifth district.
If approved by Congress and signed into law by President Aquino, a plebiscite will be called for residents of Camarines Sur to vote on the new province.
Lawyer Genevieve Velicaria-Guevarra of the Comelec, however, said the body had no budget for a recall election or plebiscite this year.
She said the poll body’s priority was the automation of next year’s elections.
“As of the current budget, we don’t have the money for the conduct of elections, including plebiscite,” she said in reply to a question by Sen. Joker Arroyo.
Hearing this, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the local government committee, remarked: “This issue is not going to be decided here. If it has been mentioned that the Comelec doesn’t have funds, I don’t know how to continue the process.”
Oppositors claimed that the breakup would make the province poor. But the main proponents, including the elder Villafuerte, said this would actually facilitate the delivery of services, and make the provincial government more responsive to the needs of the people, among others.
“The argument of the oppositors that it will make the province poor is a misleading generalization that denigrates the intelligence of the people of Camarines who will evaluate the merits or demerits of the division of the province,” the elder Villafuerte said.