By Dolly Yasa
BACOLOD City – Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson is optimistic that Negros Island Region (NIR) will be reestablished before 2023 ends.
Lacson told reporters that Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri is set to meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., today, Sept 23, 2023, to update the latter after meeting with the governors and vice governors of the three provinces that will comprise the NIR.
He pointed out that prior to Zubiri’s meeting with the President, the two have already met and the latter knew that Zubiri will be meeting with the governors of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor island.
Zubiri together with the chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Senator JV Ejercito, and Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo, met with Lacson and vice governor Jeffrey Ferrer of Negros Occidental, and Governor Manuel “Chaco” Sagarbarria and Vice Governor Jake Reyes of Negros Oriental.
Siquijor Governor Jake Villa also joined the meeting virtually, and expressed his full support for the inclusion of Siquijor in the NIR, Lacson said.
Lacson said all the officials in the meeting expressed support for the revival of the NIR.
He said this will be reported by Zubiri to the President in their meeting today as the President told Zubiri to “get back to me” as far as the meeting is concerned “kung talaga bang gusto ng governors and vice governors of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor ang NIR.”
“So this will be the report that Zubiri will be giving the President,” Lacson said.
Lacson said that in their meeting with Zubiri and Ejercito, he and Sagabarria agreed to have the same setup of regional offices as the previous NIR.
Villa, Lacson said, expressed his desire for the regional office of the Department of Tourism to be located in Siquijor.
“As of now we will follow what was already in place in the previous NIR,” Lacson told reporters Friday in an interview at the Community Center of Bago City where the Regional Development Council meeting he attended was held and being hosted by the city government headed by Mayor Nicolas Torres.
Lacson also said that Zubiri suggested the regional offices would be established phase by phase.
“And I agree to that strategy because if we ask for the whole amount it’s too big but if we do it phase by phase, slowly we can complete the regional centers,” he further said.
As to the budget for the revival of the NIR, Lacson said “You know in our meeting yesterday (Thursday), there’s no concern about the budget. Senator Zubiri was confident he would be able to pull this through together with Senator JV Ejercito.”
As for the timeline, Lacson said Zubiri wants to have it by December adding that “parang Christmas gift na for the NIR”.
He added the plan is by December this year, the NIR law will be signed by the President.
‘Bring government closer to the people’
In a press statement sent to the Daily Guardian Friday Zubiri said “It is our job to bring government closer to our people, and this is why we are committed to re-establishing the Negros Island Region (NIR) once again.”
Despite being part of the same island, the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental currently belong to separate administrative regions—Region VI and VII, respectively. The island of Siquijor belongs to Region VII as well.
“The situation in Negros right now is needlessly difficult for our people. Imagine that you live in Negros Occidental. If you want to run a government transaction, you have no choice but to travel all the way to Iloilo,” he said.
“As if the expense and the hassle of regular travel is not enough, at the slightest weather disturbance, these Ro-Ro ships may pause their operations. So ano na lang ang gagawin ng mga kababayan natin? Mapapagastos pa sila ng accommodations nang wala sa oras. Talagang problematic ang current administrative set-up dito sa Regions VI and VII.”
Joining Zubiri for the meeting was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Senator JV Ejercito, Special Assistant to the President Anton Lagdameo, Governor Bong Lacson and Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer of Negros Occidental, and Governor Manuel “Chaco” Sagarbarria and Vice Governor Jake Reyes of Negros Oriental.
Siquijor Governor Jake Villa also joined the meeting virtually and expressed his full support for the inclusion of Siquijor in the NIR.
With the full support of the leadership of the concerned provinces, Zubiri is hopeful that the push for the NIR will prosper anew.
The provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental have already agreed upon the list of which government agencies and offices should be located in which province, with Siquijor’s agreement.
They are set to submit the list to Sen. Ejercito’s Senate Committee on Local Government, for consideration.
“We cannot expect our people to progress if we cannot even give them easy access to our government services,” Zubiri said.
“The Negros region is so full of potential, and if we bring our services closer to them, that will surely translate to unprecedented development for our provinces.”