Manila Standard Today - Feeling the heat of Bicol Express - Macon Araneta

Senators are begining to feel intense pressure to pass a controversial bill seeking to divide Camarines Sur into two provinces and creating the new province of Nueva Camarines.

“There’s time for us to pass this bill, but whether there’ll be enough time for a plebiscite so that it will be effective by October 1 is very difficult to say,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III, referring to House Bill No. 4820 which the House of Representatives passed early last month.

But the Senate committee on local government, chaired by Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is still deliberating on the bill and has not finalized the official report that will be taken up on the Senate floor for plenary debate.

The bill was to be tackled on the Senate floor last Aug. 28 after the committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws submitted its report on the measure, but Marcos blocked its consideration because his committee was the primary committee hearing the bill.

Marcos said he already had a committee report, but he wanted to prepare a new one because of new inputs from the bill’s supporters and opponents.

“I find it a very reasonable request on the part of the committee on local government,” Sotto said. “That’s why I’m constrained not to act on the secondary committee report until the primary committee informs me what their actions will be.”

The bill’s backers, Camarines Sur congressmen Luis Villafuerte (3rd district) and Arnulfo Fuentebella, have been storming senators with incessant appeals, telephone calls and personal visits, Sotto admitted.

“They are aggressively asking me, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and local government committee chairman Sen. Bongbong Marcos Jr. to tackle the bill at once,” the majority leader said. “They are worried that HB 4820 may not be approved before the deadline for the filing of the certificates of candidacy for the 2013 elections.”

Villafuerte even attended an all-senator caucus last July 24 to lobby for the passage of the bill, displeasing Senators Antonio Trillanes IVand Joker Arroyo, who are both from the Bicol region.

Trillanes said legislating the division of a province when there is no compelling reason to do so is an unwise and risky move and will likely set a bad precedent for future lawmakers.

He said carving out a new province out of Camarines Sur will only lessen the Internal Revenue Allotments of the existing provinces and hamper the delivery of basic services in their areas.

Arroyo, on the other hand, asked the Senate to determine if the bill was merely an attempt to “gerrymander” the province and create new political districts for benefit the bill’s proponents.

Camarines Sur Governor Luis Raymond Villafuerte Jr., the congressman’s estranged son, echoed Trillanes’ and Arroyo’s views and said the division was a political maneuver meant to ensure the poll victories of its backers, including his father.

The older Villafuerte is on his third and last term as a congressman and is planning to run for governor in their province. But if Camarines Sur is divided, he wouldn’t have to run against his son.

The other supporters of the bill are Camarines Sur representatives Diosdado Arroyo of the second district and Rolando Andaya Jr. of the first district, who both benefited from the creation of an  additional district in Camarines Sur in 2010.