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A costly proposition for integration

(Second of three parts)

BACOLOD CITY—The main consideration in creating a new region to be composed of the two Negros provinces is the cost, according to Interior Undersecretary Austere Panadero. But he advised that this should also be viewed in consideration of the projected benefits.

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In a forum in Cebu, Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad said the Negros Island Region (NIR) proposal should be studied well because it would mean “spending more money for offices than for services.”

“You will build offices and need many employees for the offices. You have to think things if it is better to spend the money for programs and projects than for administrative heads and personnel,” Abad said.

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Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II estimates the cost of operations for one regional office at roughly P45 million. This means the total annual cost of operations of 29 agencies will be at least P1.305 billion—an amount that can build more than 2,000 classrooms (P650,000 per classroom) every year.

Anthony Nuyda, director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government in Western Visayas, confirmed the figures. He said the annual operating costs of regional offices would range from P10 million for smaller offices to about P40 million for bigger ones. The amount does not include putting up the buildings to house the offices.

But there have been several proposals to cut cost.

The municipality of Mabinay in Negros Oriental province, which is among those being considered the regional center, has offered to host the regional offices. Likewise, Central Philippines State University in Kabankalan City in Negros Occidental province has offered a portion of its property for the regional site without cost to the national government.

The Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry is suggesting the conversion of provincial offices of agencies in Bacolod and Dumaguete into subregional offices to save in the construction of new regional office buildings and the hiring of 350 new regional government officials and staff.

According to Nuyda, the creation of the NIR will result to an almost even population of Western Visayas (4.2 million), Central Visayas (5.5 million) and NIR (4.2 million). It will host 19 cities (13 in Negros Occidental and six in Negros Oriental) while Western Visayas and Central Visayas will have three and 10 cities.

Some officials feel that Negros Occidental is more identified with Iloilo rather than with Negros Oriental because of the Ilonggo roots of many settlers in the province and similarity in language and other cultural traits. They also speak Hiligaynon while those living in the Oriental side converse in Cebuano.

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Residents of Mabinay and Kabankalan can speak both Cebuano and Hiligaynon, Negros Oriental Rep. Henry Pryde Teves said. “Many Negrense residents are comfortable in speaking either language,” he said.

But for lawyer Mikhail Lee Maxino, the language issue is serious.

“The Constitution provides that the region should have a regional language that shall serve as the auxiliary official language in the region, the auxiliary medium of instruction,” said Maxino, dean of Silliman University’s College of Law. “So in this Negros Island Region, what would be the regional auxiliary official language?” he asked.

For Negros Oriental Vice Gov. Mark Macias, the solution is simple: Transactions will be done in English.

The communist-led National Democratic Front-Negros (NDF-Negros) claims that the NIR is a move by Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon and his allies to expand their political and economic interests in Negros Oriental.

“The much bigger reason is that the [NIR] will enable big reactionary classes of Negros Occidental to tap and exploit the resources of the nearby backward towns and barangays (villages) in the boundaries of Occidental and Oriental. They believe they could reap super profits should they develop the economic and business potentials of the area,” former priest Frank Fernandez, NDF-Negros spokesperson, said in a statement.

Marañon has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying the integration of the two provinces will affect the succeeding generations and the development of the island.

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TAGS: Interior Undersecretary Austere Panadero, Negros, News, Regions
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