The Negrenses can finally heave a collective sigh of relief after 20 years of waiting because they are now a collective. They now officially have a region they can call their own by virtue of Executive Order No. 183 signed by President Benigno Aquino III. Beginning May 29, 2015, they are now the Negros Island Region (NIR).
Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental in Philippine map (Courtesy of Google Maps / sunstar.com.ph)
This is a long-for event for the people of the Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, which used to be part of Region 6 (Western Visayas) and Region 7 (Central Visayas), respectively. Bacolod, which is part of Negros Occidental, is the most populous city to be made part of the new region.
Aquino was all for the petition, and had promptly signed the documents that would make it official when he visited Bacolod shortly before embarking on a state visit to Japan. According to the president, it was the first step towards the accelerated economic and social development in the area. As an administrative region, it would make it easier and more convenient for the government to do business that closely affected what happened in the two provinces, and this included pooling their natural resources.
The Negrenses were briefly citizens of their own republic after they revolted against the Spanish colonial government in November 1898 led by Generals Juan Araneta and Aniceto Lacson. The fake rifles the revolutionaries carried fooled the local governor Colonel Isidro de Castro, who promptly surrendered. The Canton Republic of Negros was proclaimed on November 27, 1898, only to become a protectorate of the US on July 22, 1899. It became part of the Philippines on April 30, 1901, still under the US military government.
While EO 183 does not make them a republic, the NIR enjoys a measure of independence when it comes to regional planning, management, and administration. More importantly, the regional government controls the income of the resources-rich land solely for benefit the local residents. Previously, the income from the two provinces was annexed by their respective regional governments and the benefits doled out equally to all member provinces. As part of Western Visayas, for example, Negros Occidental had to share resources with five other provinces. As part of the NIR, Negros Occidental only has to share with Negros Oriental, and gets 60% of the pie by virtue of being the bigger and more populous Negros.
It is still early days, but the machinery has been set in motion to identify the location of key government functions such as the regional center, regulating. planning, staffing, and budgeting. Aquino spearheaded the formation of the Negros Island Region-Technical Working Group (NIR-TWG) to get the ball rolling in the right direction. Also included in the EO is the mandate for the establishment of the Negros Island Peace and Order Council, the Development Council, and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
As the 18th Region in the Philippines, there are many challenges ahead for the newly-formed administrative government. It is to be hoped that the leaders of the two provinces can work together to make the dream of a One Negros a shining reality.