IRA, pizza and the Palawan gerrymandering

As the plebiscite for the division of Palawan drew near, my piece “CamSur partition: It’s not the economy, stupid!“. It is expected because the dividing areas into political and administrative territories also have implications — some of them life changing. Unfortunately, and no matter where and how you look at it, these changes will only benefit politicians or those holding political power.

But if politics is addition why would these politicians opt to gerrymander?

File:Palawan Partition.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
The proposed division of Palawan. (source: https://commons.wikimedia.org)

The answer is simple: If you are a king and have five sons, won’t you just divide your kingdom into five so that they won’t quarrel or kill each other as they covet your throne? How much more if you have competing political dynasties like the Reyeses of Coron and the Alvarezes of San Vicente; and the Hagedorn and Ponce de Leon of Puerto Princesa? It is not cost-efficient for competing clans to always challenge each other during elections so why not just divide the turfs and not mind what each dynast is doing in his/her respective area?

Proponents, however, would always argue of economic benefits if areas are divided into fiefdoms. In Palawan, it was even argued that the split is estimated to yield a 10% increase in each new province’s internal revenue allotment (IRA) — a very enticing argument. The increase in IRA could then be translated into more projects social services for the people, right? Well, if you look at the bigger picture, the answer is: Wrong!

To simplify everything, let us consider one pizza pie as the representation of the total IRA for the provinces. Whether the pizza pie came from Greenwich, or Yellow Cab or Pizza Hut, it doesn’t matter. The size of the pizza is 12 inches and there are six persons who need to share. Hence, you divide the pizza into six. But then, one of the six brought two friends so all in all, there are eight mouths that wanted to have a bite over the pizza. There are at least two solutions to address this — either the person who brought friends divide his share into three, or ask the rest of the group to divide the pizza into eight.

Assuming that the response is to divide the pizza into eight, did the one 12 inch pizza increased in size? No, the 12-inch pizza still remained a 12-inch pizza. What increased is the number of mouths so instead of having 1/6 slice, each now will have 1/8 slice. The five original pizza eaters got reduced shares just to give way to the person who brought two friends. The same with the IRA currently being divided by 81 provinces. With the addition of two more Palawans, the IRA will now be divided into 83. So for the selfish motive of the political dynasts in Palawan, the rest of the provinces in the country will suffer.

Wait, but isn’t it that the two additional provinces will also be generating taxes? So isn’t the increase in taxes means bringing in more dough so that the 12-inch pizza will increase in size?

That is an interesting argument. Does the increase in the number of provinces also mean an increase in the sizes of territories? Will the land areas also increase which means an increase also in real property taxes? We can only assume that the local economies will become vibrant and can thus result to an increase in local revenues if the province is divided into three. But then, that is just an assumption. Note that the provincial land area will not be increased, and the municipalities will remain the same only that they will be clustered into the would-be created provinces. Worse, if these dynasts were already inefficient when the province was not yet divided, how can we say that they will change when the province is divided?

The claim that the province needs to be divided because administratively, its geography poses a challenge, also does not hold water. When they run for public office, they already know these challenges. Why still run, in the first place? Can’t they even think of strengthening satellite offices or maximizing the benefits of communications technology? What — the telecommunication system is poor? Palawan has been receiving special shares from the operation of its energy and natural resource deposits. Why not utilize the same to improve information and communications connectivity?

Well, there are more excuses that can be generated to justify the creation of the three provinces. But simply, only the advocates of the pro-split will benefit while the rest of the country need to sacrifice by giving up a portion of their shares. Can’t these advocates start sacrificing first by not running for public office or accepting public posts because they are not only trying to cover-up their inefficiency but are also trying to satisfy their own political and self interests at the expense of others?

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