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Fuentebella and Villafuerte debated live on CAMSUR partition in Iriga

Naga City (June 27) – Poles apart in their positions, Camarines Sur Governor L-Ray Villafuerte and 4th district Congressman Noli Fuentebella embraced each other after a heated debate on the issue of partitioning the province of Camarines Sur during a summit held at the amphitheatre of the University of Saint Anthony (USANT) in Iriga City.

Fuentebella and Villafuerte attended the event as guests but the listed speakers deferred to them to allow the two highest officials in the thick of the partition debate to hash out the pros and cons of the issue.

Fuentebella, the main author of House Bill 4820, “An act creating the new province of Nueva Camarines” now pending in Congress, came prepared with PowerPoint presentations and was firm of his stand in favor of partitioning Camarines Sur, saying it shall bring benefits and progress to its constituents.

He reiterated that the allocation of the Internal Revenue Allotment for the new province is an advantage both to new and old one. He said the decrease in numbers of towns that will share the IRA is significant in governance because the local governments can sustain themseves economically.

Fuentebella also pointed out that Nueva Camarines has all the qualifications to be a new province according to provisions of the Local Government Code of 1991.

Fuentabella argued, that despite the so called, “ Tourism development” of the province, the National Statistics Coordinating Board (NSCB) placed Camarines Sur a low no. 78 in the Good Governance Index.

He added, that he did not like the division issue of the province to be perceived as political or self-serving, but it should be viewed as a development proposal for both provinces to grow and benefit the next generations.

On the other hand, Villafuerte, who came with his son Migs, reiterated his opposition to partitioning, arguing that the present development of the province should not be halted by this political movement.

Villafuerte said that under his administration, Camarines Sur has leaped economically because of his major economic projects such as CWC, Gota Beach Resort, and other major investment of the province. He also contradicted claims that previously divided provinces since 1901 have all developed. He cited as examples Biliran in Leyte and Guimaras in Iloilo, which he said are still impoverished after many years of being separated from their mother provinces. He further claimed that he has elevated Camarines Sur to the top among tourist destinations in Bicol, now known to the world, while other Bicol provinces have remained among the poorest in the country.

Rinconada Congressman Salvio Fortuno also attended the event to air his anti-partition sentiment.

The Iriga summit was the second leg in the ongoing public consultations on the issue of partitioning the province sponsored by a private group. The USANT auditorium proved too small for the event because it could only accommodate 500 people. A sizable crowd outside the building still enthusiastically listened to the debates from an extended speakers system.

Iriga City Mayor Madelaine Alfelor dismissed speculations that the attendees were transported (“hakot”) by pro-division advocates. She explained that there is in fact a high level of awareness and interest in the issue because Iriga City, a component city, and the Rinconada area (5th legislative district) are slated for inclusion in the proposed new province.

According to Emil Saavedra, the Secretary General of the summit organizers, the second series of the summit that lasted 5 hours could be considered a triumph of the people of Camarines Sur because concerned officials are now involved hands-on in the issue.

The first summit held in Ateneo de Naga in May 21, organized by the Masscom Arts and Affairs and the Ateneo de Naga University, Institute of Politics, drew only 73 participants, mostly lawyers, university professors, students and news reporters.

Saavedra said the 3rd leg of the summit shall be held in Libmanan town then later in Goa. The culmination of the consultation series shall be a debate at Plaza Rizal in Naga City. Details of this are yet to be announced, he said. (With reports from Sonny Sales and Noriel Oya)