BACOLOD CITY – Negros Occidental Third District Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez underscored the need to thresh out "significant details" for the creation of the Negros Island Region (NIR) amid the opposition by Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo.
"I feel that the way the consolidated measure has been phrased gives him the opportunity later on to ensure that whatever emerges (from the discussions) will benefit everyone," Benitez, one of the bill's main authors, said in a press briefing in Victorias City on Monday night.
"It's clear to everyone that everybody wants it, but obviously there are significant details that need to be worked out," he added.
Degamo had been quoted in media reports as saying he was not keen on Negros Oriental being part of the NIR and would rather his province remain under Central Visayas, citing cultural and language differences but has yet to submit a position paper.
Last week, the House committee on local government approved the substitute or consolidated bill, which now includes the adjacent island-province of Siquijor.
Titled "An Act Establishing the NIR, and Appropriating Funds Therefor", the proposed measure has been introduced by all the legislators from Negros Occidental, including Benitez, Greg Gasataya of the Lone District of Bacolod, Gerardo Valmayor Jr. of the First District, Alfredo Marañon III of the Second District, Juliet Ferrer of the Fourth District, Emilio Bernardino Yulo of the 5th District, Mercedes Alvarez of the Sixth District and Joseph Stephen Paduano of Abang Lingkod party-list.
Three bills had been filed separately by Benitez, Ferrer, and Marañon for the creation of the NIR.
The new bill provides the NIR will be created composed of the provinces of Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and Siquijor as well as Bacolod City.
"We have a unanimous position, including Siquijor, in the new NIR. We will create a Technical Working Group headed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government, with the cooperation of the three governors to come together to decide what will be the best way to divide up the agencies or the regional centers to fast-track government services," Benitez said.
To date, Negros Occidental and Bacolod belong to Western Visayas or Region 6 while Negros Oriental and Siquijor are part of Central Visayas or Region 7.
"When the NIR is actually established, Region 6, NIR and Region 7, will more or less have an equivalent number of people. It basically spreads out the per capita service of the central government across the three potential regions," Benitez said.
He added that Siquijor Governor Jake Vincent Villa and Lone District Rep. Zaldy Villa have requested to be included in the NIR since the island province's distance to Negros is nearer than Cebu.
"Based on the premise that the trip to Cebu City from Siquijor takes them four to five hours and the trip to Dumaguete City takes them 50 minutes to one hour," Benitez said, adding that including Siquijor in the new region would make the size of NIR bigger.
Previously, Siquijor was part of Negros Island as a sub-province of Negros Oriental before it became an independent province in 1971.
"It just makes it logical sense that we can arrange it (to become part of NIR)," Benitez said. (PNA)