Why we need NIR now more than ever

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De Todo un Poco

Four and a half million people. 13,300 square kilometers of land. 19 cities and 38 municipalities. Three primary road networks. Two provinces. One island.

I have long been an advocate of the Negros Island Region. This ongoing public health challenge is proof of its necessity.

On March 11, 2020, the Provincial Government of Negros Oriental reported its first COVID-19 positive case. The individual, identified as “Patient 39,” had a history of travel to Manila. It was at this point when advisories showing that Western Visayas had no COVID-19 infections were being carelessly shared on social media by opinion leaders in Negros Occidental to downplay health concerns and comfort an anxious public. I use the term “careless” because of the simple fact that while Negros Occidental is part of Western Visayas and Negros Oriental is part of Central Visayas, both provinces share just one island with porous borders and several entry points that are difficult to secure.

On March 15, Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson signed an executive order implementing the closure of the province’s borders, ports, and airports. Two days later, Negros Oriental had also followed suit. Fast forward to June 1, Western Visayas is now under Modified General Community Quarantine while Central Visayas (with the exception of Cebu City) remains under General Community Quarantine. Beyond the semantics, the new normal will require a rethink for the Officialdom of Negros Island insofar as moving forward and building back better. An effort must be initiated to at least establish a Negros Island Alliance – a mechanism for inter-provincial cooperation that will provide a whole-island approach for development in general and the containment of disease in particular.

This reminds me of the book entitled, “The Revenge of Geography” by Robert Kaplan, that eloquently posits that those who forget geography can never defeat it. In the case of Negros Occidental, this pandemic has allowed us to prove our resilience (Barter Communities sprouting and agri-fishery people’s organizations filling gaps especially in the food supply chain) and justified the public policy thrusts of the Capitol (focus on Food Security and Information & Communications Technology). Meanwhile, in Negros Oriental, their laudable efforts in coastal resource management and championing renewable energy, among other policies, show a significant overlap between the goals set by both Capitols.

The blueprint has been set and the experience of the past months provide an incentive for Negrenses to return to the drawing table and, if not push to reestablish the Negros Island Region, at least move forward with a viable response to our common problems and situational needs.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer observed that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” This “new normal” provides a unique opportunity for the two Negros Island provinces to finally rise above the challenges caused by imagined borders drawn by technocrats against Nature’s primordial design.

Justin Silos Gatuslao, 32, is Vice Mayor of the City of Himamaylan as well as a teacher (and student) of history.
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