Gerrymandering in a pandemic

Gerrymandering in a pandemic

Not even a pandemic, it seems, can stop politicians from carving out fiefdoms at taxpayers’ expense. With the next three generations of Filipinos now buried up to their necks in debt incurred to finance the pandemic response, precious public funds will have to be spent for a plebiscite to subdivide Palawan into not just two but three provinces.

Earlier this month, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases spent time to come up with the health protocols for the conduct of the plebiscite in the first quarter of 2021. The plebiscite is needed to ratify the gerrymandering of Palawan, as provided under Republic Act 11259 that President Duterte signed into law in April last year.

When the law was signed, the joke was that the three provinces would be called Palawan, Palatu and Palatri – a play on one, two and three – but taxpayers aren’t laughing. If ever the plebiscite approves the gerrymandering, public funds will have to be added, in perpetuity, to the annual national expenditure program. A new province will need its own congressional representation, a governor, vice governor and provincial council – with the additional infrastructure and bureaucracy to support the new offices.

Improving public service is supposedly the reason for gerrymandering. Does this mean the current service is not satisfactory? Why is it that when the country is faced with underwhelming service, the answer is to create a new executive department, or a new province or congressional district?

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent the economy into an unprecedented recession. From impoverished families to middle-class professionals to micro, small and medium enterprises, everybody is in dire need of government assistance to get back on one’s feet. Even certain wealthy industrialists are taking a heavy hit in their bottom line, impairing their capacity to provide jobs and contribute to economic growth.

What does the government do? It moves to further bloat the bureaucracy, and prepares to add to the ever-growing list of lawmakers fighting over personal control of people’s money. Don’t we have better and definitely more urgent uses for acutely limited public funds? In this terrible public health crisis, gerrymandering is where our taxes will go.