Palawan province held a plebiscite Saturday to decide whether or not it should be divided into three, an election that also gave a preview of how the 2022 national polls will be held in the middle of the pandemic.
The plebiscite was borne out of a House bill that sought to establish Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental and Palawan del Sur, claiming it would make the distribution of resources more equitable.
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What is at stake?
Palawan has nearly 800,000 people, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, roughly half the number of people in the city of Manila.
However, in terms of size, it is the fifth biggest island in the country and the biggest island to hold just one province. Islands geographically larger than Palawan, like Negros and Samar, have long been halved.
Palawan's land area is roughly 22 times the size of Metro Manila. It's snake-like shape brings its northern tip close to Luzon and it's southern end close to Mindanao.
Based on Congress' proposal, Palawan del Norte will include the tourism hotbeds of Coron and El Nido. Palawan Oriental will include Amanpulo and the emerging destination, San Vicente. Palawan del Sur will include the mining areas of the south.
Dividing the Palawan into three provinces means there will be three governors instead of one for the entire island.
Palawan fronts the West Philippine Sea, where the Philippines has long-running disputes with China over reefs and outcrops. Kalayaan Island, the largest Filipino-occupied feature in the Spratly Islands is politically part of Palawan and is accessible by land and sea from the capital, Puerto Princesa.
Here's what the plebiscite looks like
Saturday's plebiscite provided a glimpse of what the 2022 national elections will look like. Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez called it the "new look" of voting in the Philippines.
Balloting is manual and voters only need to answer either yes or no to the plebiscite question.
Voters are required to wear face masks and face shields and observe physical distancing.
Voters are screened prior to entry and those who have body temperatures of at least 37.5 degrees Celsius are taken to isolation voting booths.