Executive Director's Corner

A Negros Region

Posted on July 27, 2015 08:30:00 PM

A Negros Region…Finally!

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M.A.P. Insights
Rolando T. Dy

In May 2015, President Aquino signed an Executive Order joining the two Negros provinces into one region, thus separating Negros Occidental from Western Visayas and Negros Oriental from Central Visayas. It has been a journey of 40 years!
In September 1974, the Center for Research and Communication (CRC; now University of Asia and the Pacific) published a report entitled “A Development Plan for Negros Island.”

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The report states: “Negros is a divided island. A mountain range divides the two provinces. Coupled with a bad road network between the two provinces, this has served to isolate the peoples of the two places from one another. The populace of Negros Occidental are Ilonggos who interact more with their fellow Ilonggos in Panay while Oriental is Cebuano in ethnic origin and trades more with Cebu than with its sister province.

Furthermore, probably as a result of this difference in ethnic origin, Negros Occidental forms the Western Visayas administrative region with the Panay provinces of Antique, Aklan, Capiz and Iloilo while Central Visayas encompasses the provinces of Negros Oriental, Bohol and Cebu.

The integration of the island is a must from many standpoints. For industrialization, much more activities are feasible if the island economy is integrated; the raw material base and the market can be widened and diversified. Each of the provinces has certain resources which the other does not have, but can be combined to form a stronger front once the island is unified.

The present break-up of the island in terms of regional administration has created certain problems, like infrastructure development. In an interview, district and city engineers strongly believe that the improvement as well as the rationalization of the whole island’s road network can be hastened if there is but one regional entity governing the whole of Negros.

There is then a very strong case for the integration of Negros for with this is a reality that more opportunities will be created and a lot of waste can be avoided.

The 1974 CRC report was inspired by the private sector, particularly by the advocacies of then Occidental Governor Daniel “Bitay” Lacson, Jr. and the late Leonardo “Boyjee” Gallardo, Jr. of the Negros Economic Development Foundation. It was written by Ramiro Golez, Jr., a masters student in industrial economics, and a native of Silay City.

The drive for a single-island region was re-started by then Governor Lacson and the late Oriental Governor Emilio Macias after the EDSA People Power Revolution during 1986-1992.

According to reports, their successors, former Governor Rafael Coscolluella, Governor Macias, and former Governor George Arnaiz identified Kabankalan City in Negros Occidental and the neighboring municipality of Mabinay in Negros Oriental as joint regional centers. The current governors Alfredo Maranon, Jr. of Occidental and Roel Degamo of Oriental, in alliance with Congressman Albee Benitez and Secretary Mar Roxas pushed the drive to fruition.

How important is Negros Island to the Philippine economy?

Negros has a population base of 4.4 million: 3.1 million from Negros Occidental, including Bacolod City, and 1.3 million for Negros Oriental in 2010. The former has 13 cities and 19 towns; and the latter, six cities and 19 towns.

The region produces some 58% of sugar, 4% of pork, about 3% each of rice, corn, and chicken. There are 12 sugar mills on the island with a total capacity of about 100,000 tons of cane per day.

Both have poverty incidences higher than the nation: 32.3% for Occidental and 50.1% for Oriental as compared to 25.2% for the whole country. Both have higher rates than the regional averages: 29.1% for Western Visayas and 30.2% for Central Visayas.

Low farm productivity will be a major challenge to be faced by the Region. Occidental ranked No. 39 in average farm productivity among 82 provinces and cities. Oriental is in a worse shape at No. 67. The good news is that the former is fourth in sugar yield, albeit at a low 64 tons cane per hectare.

The passage of the Sugarcane Bill of Rep. Benitez into law will be a big boost to the sugar industry. The law provides P2 billion annually to further develop the industry. Meanwhile, the Negros economic base must be diversified in both farming to tourism. Already there are interests to plant Cavendish banana, coffee and cacao in Occidental.

More quality infrastructure to connect the two provinces east-to-west would be urgent, plus improving the coastal highways.

What development strategy will reduce Oriental’s mass poverty of 50% to national average of 25%?

Stronger institutions are needed. External investments must be promoted.

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the M.A.P.)

Rolando T. Dy is the Vice Chair of the M.A.P. AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Committee, and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific.

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