Over 200 volunteers from Energy Development Corporation (EDC) and its partners for a Greener Negros movement (10M in 10) celebrated BINHI and Arbor Day by planting 3,000 native tree seedlings at Brgy. Calabnugan, Sibulan, Negros Oriental.
EDC and its current and potential 10M in 10 partners planted balite, tabugay, taruy, talo-ot, pili, and kube trees in celebration of the two important occasions that are instrumental to the fulfillment of their commitment to grow back forests in Negros Island.
“The passion for environmental preservation of all our BINHI and 10M in 10 partners is truly admirable,” said Norreen Bautista, head of EDC’s Community Partnerships, External Relations, and Watershed Management Group in Negros Island.
Bautista said the huge turnout of volunteers indicate the Negrenses’ increasing awareness on the need to plant more native trees.”
Now on its 10 year, BINHI is EDC’s forest restoration program that aims to bring back to abundance premium endangered native trees and to bridge forest gaps through a holistic, scientific, and multi-pronged approach.
To date, the company has already planted over 6.3 million seedlings with the help of its 149 partners from 16 regions all over the country, said Baustista.
She added that more than 2.5 million of these were planted on over 3,000 hectares in Negros Island with the help of EDC’s over 30 BINHI local partners.
In 2016, EDC’s BINHI team identified, located, and collected 96 targeted threatened native tree species and have sought out ways to propagate them.
To do this, EDC has put up a state-of-the-art automated nursery called a Vegetative Materials Reproduction (VMR) facility in its 222.5MW geothermal project in Valencia, Negros Oriental that makes use of an automated mist irrigation system to give the right amount of mist and mimic the conditions of a natural forest habitat.
This VMR in Valencia will serve not only the need for native seedlings of EDC’s BINHI partners in the Visayas region but even that of its over 140 10M in 10 partners.
“We encourage those who are truly committed to protecting and restoring the forests of Negros Island to partner with us in this green revolution. All these efforts are crucial in fighting climate change,” Bautista urged.
The geothermal leader, EDC is the world’s largest vertically integrated geothermal company and the only diversified renewable energy firm in the country.
The company has been powering Negros Island for over 35 years with geothermal energy, the only form of renewable energy that can provide baseload power 24/7.
Members of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) to Review the 1987 Constitution believe the economic development of Negros Island will take off under the proposed Negrosanon Federated Region (NFR).
“Definitely it should only be better,” ConCom member Arthur Aguilar said.
Aguilar is positive that Negros Island can stand alone as a separate region due to its natural endowments, regional capabilities, and potentials.
“There are still people who will say that we should not be a separate region because either we’re not financially able or we are not viable. That is absolutely nonsense,” Aguilar remarked.
NFR is one of the 18 regions in the country under the proposed Federal Constitution and it will be composed of the two Negros provinces: Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental.
Aguilar gave a brief overview of the general statistics and facts of Negros Island in his presentation during the 1st Regional Consultation on Federalism held in Dumaguete City on June 18.
Aguilar said they are calling it Negrosanon because it is both Visaya and Hiligaynon, the two main inhabitants of the island, and it uniquely tells the location of the island and conveys a “one island” identity.
Furthermore, the body is also proposing that the west side of the province be called Natungdan, which is the apt term for “west” in Hiligaynon, the language spoken largely in that part of the island.
On the other hand, the east side will be called Sidlakan, the Visayan word for orient.
“We are one island, two languages, one economy, and one united region,” he added.
The proposed Federal Form of government is expected to empower federated regions by devolving and decentralizing some powers of the national government to the federated regions.
The power to collect capital gains tax, donors tax, documentary stamp tax, transport franchise fees, vehicle registration (road user’s tax), and licenses and others, for example, which at present are being collected by the national government, will be part of the functions that will be dispersed to the federated regions to ensure the source of revenues that will contribute to their development.
Aguilar also pointed out in his presentation that in 2015, the 19 cities in the island earned P12.5 billion revenues in 2015 while the 38 municipalities earned P4.5 billion revenues also in the same period.
These numbers are based on records from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
The said figures do not include large taxpayers who pay their taxes in Metro Manila.
“If you bring it down here, these figures on how much our island is producing will be much greater,” Aguilar noted.
This is also the belief of another ConCom Member, Prof. Eddie Alih.
“Some of these powers will be given to the federated region especially the power to tax. We believe that with the powers that will be downloaded to the federal regions, the Negrosanon Federated region will be able to sustain its economic activities,” Prof. Alih added.
It is also proposed under the Federal Constitution that federated regions will have its own regional governor and its legislative assemblies which will enable them to formulate policies for the betterment of their region.
Aguilar likened the development of NFR to a runway or helipad.
“What we are trying to do is, the Constitution will give them (regions) a platform where they either have a runway to take off. Some will have longer runways. The others, which I think the Island of Negros will do will not even be a runway, it will be a helipad,” Aguilar explained.
“We can plan out our own infrastructure here, we know exactly how much is the budget, we have enlightened elected officials. We can take off like a helicopter. It will only be better,” he added.
Aguilar cited some reasons that would enable NFR to achieve economic development and a strong stand-alone region.
He said Negros Island is considered a renewable energy capital of the country with the presence of various renewable energy facilities including the geothermal power plant in Valencia, Negros Oriental.
“We can supply the energy needs of the Visayas in the next three to five years if only we have the transmission lines going out the island,” Aguilar remarked.
Moreover, the capital cities of Negros Oriental and Negross Occidental which are Dumaguete and Bacolod, respectively, are listed in the Top 10 cities for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.
In terms of tourism, the two cities have potentials to be airline hubs considering the location of the island which is at the center of the archipelago.
In a press conference following the conduct of the regional consultation, Aguilar was asked to comment on the development of the sugar industry which is one of the main industries of the island.
In response, Aguilar said industrial planning will still be at the national level.
However, the federated region will be in a much better position to plan out the modernization of the sugar industry especially in linking it all up with the infrastructure needs of the region itself.
Negros Island accounts for 60 percent of the total sugar industry in the country
Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform Administrator and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya said this as his assessement to the 1st Regional Consultation on Federalism held here on June 18.
The event gathered hundreds of participants from different sectors in Negros Oriental and nearby province of Siquijor.
The main objective of the regional consultation is to present the key contents of the proposed Federal Constitution and get inputs from stakeholders.
The activity in Dumaguete City is the first in the series of regional consultations and Federalism Roadshows to be carried out in different areas nationwide by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) to Review the 1987 Constitution together with the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Philippine Information Agency (PIA), and DILG.
“Why are we going around the country? We need real consultations. If you can see lahat ng tanong whether ‘for’ or ‘against’ and suggestions as well ay tinatanggap ng ating ConCom (If you can see, all the questions whether for or against and suggestions as well are taken by the ConCom). Why? Because this is an important topic for our country,” Malaya told the participants of the consultation.
“This is the most fundamental change that will happen in our lifetime and this is the change that many of our country men are wanting for,” he added.
The proposed Federal Constitution will devolve and decentralize powers and functions from the national government to the Federated Regions (FR).
However, there will still be exclusive powers that will remain in the federal government.
ConCom Member Prof. Edmund Tayao disclosed that FR is the country’s equivalent to sub-national governments which is the go-between the national or federal government to the local governments.
Federated regions will be headed by a regional governor and will be supported by a regional assembly.
Some the exclusive powers that will remain in the federal government include defense and security in which the country will still have one armed forces and national police.
Foreign affairs will also remain in the federal level and the country will still have one monetary system and one national flag.
On the other hand, the power to collect taxes such as Capital gains tax, donors tax, documentary stamp tax, transport franchise fees, vehicle registration (road user’s tax) and licenses, and others that are currently collected at the national level will be cascaded down to FRs.
More importantly, Prof. Tayao emphasized that every FR will have its own competencies, initiatives, resources, and the capacity to decide what’s better for them.
Prof. Tayao explained that in structuring FRs “You elect your representatives as constituent units. It’s two representatives per province and per highly urbanized city or independent chartered city. Then you have regional assembly. Your regional assembly will elect the regional governor which means, the regional governor acts according to what the regional assembly approves it to be. If you follow the discussion, we are proposing a collegial approach at the regional level. It is a collegial approach because it has to effectively integrate local government units.”
This addresses the fragmented current local governance in the country.
Prof. Tayao is positive that this will promote good governance with an integrated approach to regional development.
The ConCom has identified 18 regions as the starting point for transition towards Federalism.
These are based on the existing regions and the local government units.
Prof. Tayao said these will be the benchmark but regions will be given incentives to find reason to converge.
The objective of this is to minimize the disruption in the process of transitioning since there are already bureaucracies in place.
“The key message to you is when we transition from a unitary to a Federal Form of government, we should avoid disruptions. The theme of Federalism is integration and amalgamation. It is not a thing for fragmentation and it is a thing for promoting competency and good governance,” Prof. Tayao remarked.
Prof. Tayao also underscored the importance of establishing a mechanism for coordination and discussion in relation to inter-governmental relations.
With this, the new Constitution also proposes the establishment of a Federal Inter-governmental Commission (FIGC) and one of its key functions is to settle possible disputes between different levels of government.
Meanwhile, another ConCom Member Atty. Ferdinand Bocobo highlighted that the proposed Constitution aims to have strong Federal Form of Government.
“This means a strong permanent indissoluble nation with emphasis on the word indissoluble. Wala pong pwedeng humiwalay (No one will be separated). When we say Federalism, this is holding together. We are holding together po iyong existing regions natin. Binubuo po natin yan as one Federal Government (We are holding together existing regions. We are forming that as one Federal Government). When we say bayanihan, we expect all federated regions to be cooperating with and among each other,” Atty. Bocobo said.
The proposed new Constitution is also expected to institute political reforms by breaking the monopoly of power, levelling the political field, and enabling direct exercise of democracy by the people, economic reforms that will spread economic growth and development, create opportunities, income and wealth, social reforms that will strengthen the Bill of Rights by enshrining socio-economic rights like education, healthcare and housing, and also by enshrining environmental rights.
Aside from these, another highlight of the event is the presentation of the Negrosanon Federated Region, one of the 18 regions under the proposed Federal Constitution, which will be composed of the two Negros provinces: Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental.
Commissioner Arthur Aguilar believes Negros Island can stand alone as a separate region due to its natural endowments, regional capabilities, and potentials including the renewable energy facilities found in the island.
During the open forum, Siquijor Vice-Governor Mei Ling Quezon asked ConCom members if the current laws such which is national in scope would still be retained under the federal government or would it be delegated to regional governments.
In response, Prof. Edmund Tayao elaborated that within the 18-month transition period set to shift to a Federal System, Congress has to look into several laws that has to be adopted to the new Constitution.
“For example, as it is right now, there’s a conflict between several laws. Local Government Code conflicts with the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (and) even with the Mining Act and so on. Congress has to really look into these existing legislations and find a way to find harmony within these different legislations and make it consistent with the powers that we now download to the federated regions,” Tayao said.
Dumaguete City Councilor Alan Gel Cordova also asked ConCom Members their comment on the possibility of the occurrence of secessionist groups since the country will have regional governments asserting state rights over Federal rights.
Aguilar pointed out that every region will still be under one Federal Armed Forces or Federal police force and what was given down are the economic discretion from the unitary form of government.
He acknowledged that the councilor’s concern over fragmentation or secessionist are valid but “we don’t have much. We only have ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) and the Bangsamoro and we are dealing with that specifically through BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) and the autonomous region called Bangsamoro.”
“If you will read the spirit and intent of the draft constitution, it is a strong political center presiding over 18 economically empowered regions. What has been given down are the economic discretion, permits and licenses, planning, funding, infrastructure, eco-zones, they are all there in the regions. This is about the economy more than political power,” Aguilar explained.
Prof. Eddie Alih also pointed out that in the context of federalization, the proposed constitution ensures that Filipinos remain united and progressive.
“Maski po nag-create tayo ng several federated regions, we have to remain united and progressive. Nakalagay din po sa ating preamble (ang) united and progressive society. (Even though we have created several federated regions, we have to remain united and progressive. It is also stated in the Preamble),” Prof. Alih added.
Negros Oriental Vice-Governor Dr. Mark Macias also asked the members of ConCom if they have a draft copy of the proposed new Constitution which the participants can look into and study thoroughly.
Aguilar replied that a copy of the draft of the proposed Federal Constitution is being reviewed by the “Committee on Style” to make sure that the language is consistent and in line the clear legal Constitutional language but he assured the participants that a copy will be released to the public once the committee has finished its review.
The DILG and ConCom also engaged thousands of people in Negros Oriental and neighboring province of Negros Occidental in a Federalism Convention – Rally at the Macias Sports Center on the same day.
Aside from the keynote message delivered by NegOcc 3rd District Rep. Alfredo Benitez, another highlight of the convention rally was the signing of the “Manifesto of Support.”