The Explainer: Representation

That was an informative video on Proposition 11, which was approved by California voters by a slim majority last November. It took the power to redistrict state legislative districts away from the California legislature, and gave it to a bipartisan commission instead.

Tonight, we’re going to look at proposals to increase the number of representatives in the lower house of Congress. We’ll look at the constitutional justifications for such proposals, and why they’re political hot stuff.

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.


I. Carving out turf


From our show on proposed new provinces –seen in this Wikpedia map- we’ve discussed

Gerrymandering, named after this gentleman,

and the congressional district he carved out to help his party.

Territory is power; turf provides clout. No one knew this better than the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, whose vast archdiocese contained schools and convents he could command, the nuclei of People Power.

Faced with the power of the Archdiocese of Manila to mobilize tens of thousands, Rome cut the archdiocese to size, carving out the dioceses of Cubao and Caloocan from its territory, ensuring no successor of Cardinal Sin would ever have such tremendous clout in the Church.

As it is for churchmen, so it is for politicians. As we, the people, have increased in numbers, so has the tribe of congressmen increased.

The Malolos Constitution didn’t state how many assemblymen there should be. Legislation would take care of that. As it was, half of the legislature was elected, the other half, appointed, for a total of 136 assemblymen.

But Malolos was  stillborn republic, so for our purposes tonight we’ll look at the foundations of our modern House of Representatives.

But let’s focus on the hundred years, 1907-2007, during which our modern Congress came to be.

In 1907, when we had a population of 7.8 million, we had 80 legislators elected to the First Philippine Assembly, the lower house of its time. Today, when we have a population of 88.5 million, we have 242 members of the House of Representatives.

Jobers Bersales writing in The Cebu Daily news, wrote that the reason the First Philippine Assembly elected in 1907 had 80 seats, was due to a provision in the 1903 Cooper Act requiring a population of 90,000 per district.

Then House of Representatives established in 1916 had 90 seats.

The 1935 Constitution, as amended in 1940, permanently fixed the House of Representatives at 120 members maximum. Each province would have at least one member; and the total composition would then be determined according to proportional representation.

Before World War II, there were 98 seats in the National Assembly;

During the Japanese Occupation, the 1935 Constitution was replaced with a wartime charter, providing for a National Assembly composed of governors and city mayors as ex-officio members, with an additional delegate from each province and chartered city. It had 108 assemblymen.

After World War II, under the restored 1935 Constitution and its Congress, the number of seats grew to 106 by 1969, still not reaching the 120 maximum provided for by the Constitution.

The 1973 Constitution that replaced the 1935 Charter, originally didn’t state the number of assemblymen.

Then  amendments to that charter in 1976 established election by region, instead of district, as well as sectoral assemblymen, and fixed the number at 120, “unless otherwise provided by law,” a deviation from the 1935 Charter’s unchangeable ceiling,  that found its way into the present Constitution.

The 1978 Interim Batasang Pambansa and the 1984 Regular Batasang Pambansa both had 183 assemblymen.

The 1987 Constitution contained an ordinance establishing the Congressional districts of the country. Seats were also reserved for sectoral representatives appointed by the President of the Philippines from 1987 to 1998, when the party-list system came into effect, with a maximum of 50 party-list seats.

At present, from the 196 seats initially provided for in 1987, there are now 219 congressional districts; from the 14 appointed party-list representatives in 1987, there are now 23 party-list representatives, for a total of 242 seats.

The total is still below the 250 seat maximum in the Constitution at present. But there have been 23 additional seats created since 1987. How did that happen and how could more seats be provided for?

If you look at our Constitution, it spells out, in four subsections, the composition of the lower house.

Art. VI Section 5.

(1) The House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than two hundred and fifty members, unless otherwise fixed by law, who shall be elected from legislative districts apportioned among the provinces, cities, and the Metropolitan Manila area in accordance with the number of their respective inhabitants, and on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio, and those who, as provided by law, shall be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.

(2) The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list..

(3) Each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory. Each city with a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand, or each province, shall have at least one representative.

(4) Within three years following the return of every census, the Congress shall make a reapportionment of legislative districts


Fr. Joaquin Bernas wrote about these provisions last Monday.

Bernas puts forward 5 rules concerning House districts:

1. First, a flexible limit on the number of representative districts.

Which means, there’s a maximum of 250 members of the lower house, until and unless Congress passes a law, changing that number.

2. Second, every province, no matter how small or tiny the population, will always have at least one congressman; furthermore, every city with a population of at least 250,000 people, gets at least one congressman.

This means every legislative district should cover a population of 250,000. This is an innovation in the present Constitution. In 2010 we will have a population of 93.7 million people and if you adopt the 250k to 1 ratio, we should have 375 congressmen in 2010!

3. Third, when Congress embarks on redistricting, it has to do so on the basis of their inhabitants; and a uniform and progressive ratio must be followed. This is what’s called proportional representation.

The Constitution actually tells Congress to reapportion legislative districts within three years of the release of census results.

We have had four censuses since 1987: in 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2007. That means Congress ought to have redistricted the country in 1993, 1998, and 2003. Now it can do so, fulfilling the Constitution’s requirements by 2010.

4. Fourth, a rule requiring districts to be composed of “continguous, compact, and adjacent territory.” Bernas says this is the rule against Gerrymandering.

5. Fifth, and finally, there are also party-list representatives, who are supposed to total 20% of the number of district representatives.

As time elapses, the pressure to add legislative districts goes up just as our population rises.

Population7.8 M9.5 M14.7 M17.4 M35.7 M53.3M57 M88.5M


If you chart things over time, as we have, what do you see?

Our congressmen grew by 302.5% in a hundred years, but our population growth was even more. Population grew 1,180% in 100 years.

In 1907 there were 93,750 people per congressman. If you remember the Cooper law’s requirements, that’s pretty close to the requirements of 90,000 people constituting a district.

In 2007 it’s 365,502 people per congressman. That’s pretty far from the 250,000 people per district envisioned by our present Constitution.

And so, from that perspective alone, there are too many citizens who are represented by too few congressmen.

Some congressmen and senators have tried to do something about it, but up to now, they’ve been doing it peacemeal.


Why this leads to political hot stuff, and a personal family problem, is what we’ll tackle when we return.


II. Geometry of Representation


That was an explanation, by means of M&M’s, how the composition of voters in a locality can determine how congressional districts are sliced and diced to help reelectionists.

Now we’re far from being as scientific about legislative districts, even though the families that provide generations of congressmen know their turf.


The House of Representatives lists seven bills proposing new congressional districts; a new district covering the province of Agusan del Sur; an additional, third district for Surigao del Sur;


splitting the existing Sixth District of Cebu into two new ones; adding a new, or second, legislative district in Aklan; additional congressional districts for Pangasinan; and new districts for Cavite province.

Other proposals not listed on the House website but mentioned in the news include separating Iligan City from the First District of Lanao del Norte; splitting the lone congressional district of Camarines Norte into two districts; and a new district in Pasig.

Of these proposals, three have come far.

Rep. Abraham Mitra’s proposed turning Puerto Princesa City into its own congressional district, and this was supported by Senator Francis Escudero with Senate Bill 2677 on October 15, 2008 and  Juan Ponce Enrile with Senate Bill 2915 on November 27, 2008.

A proposal for Cavite to have four more congressional districts, which will make it seven from the existing three, got an avalanche of upper house support.

On June 16, 2008, Senator Richard Gordon filed Senate Bill 2413, with the purpose of reapportioning Cavite Province into 7 congressional districts (at present, it has three).

Senator Panfilo Lacson Jr., caught napping, then filed Senate Bill 2428 on July 7, 2008 for the same purpose.

Not to be outdone, Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. swooped in and filed Senate Bill 2501 on July 31, 2008 for the same purpose as the Gordon and Lacson bills.

So far, so good, for Cavite and its booming population.

Another senatorial proposal has been more problematic.

Senator Manuel Roxas II had filed Senate Bill 1986 providing for a new congressional district composed of the City of Malolos, Bulacan.

Senator Joker Arroyo opposed Roxas’s bill, pointing out the city’s official population, based on records of the National Statistics Office as of Aug. 1, 2007, is only 233,069 and not 255,000. former Bulacan governor Josie de la Cruz has also come out in opposition to the bill.

These questions were taken up by the public, as this entry from FilipinoVoices shows.

The debates led Senate President Enrile to call for the shelving of all pending bills creating new congressional districts.

It seems he went back to the drawing board and the result is his comprehensive bill.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile recently filed Senate Bill 3123, proposes a massive redistricting of the country, for a total of 350 seats in the House of Representatives.

Senators Zubiri and Arroyo (who opposed the Malolos City bill) support the Enrile bill, which actually means increasing the current 200 district seats to 280 seats, and raising the party-list allocation from the 50 seats maximum at present, to a maximum of 70 seats.

But what the Senate proposes, the House can choose to ignore or modify. Senator Arroyo, being a good Bicolano, supports, too, a proposal, originating from the House, concerning Camarines Sur.

A proposal as politically hot as the chili pepper on the website of the province of Camarines Sur.

That proposal has to do with Rep. Luis Villafuerte’s proposal to create a new congressional district.

The papers are playing up the angle of its being for the alleged political convenience of the President’s son:


The President has a brother-in-law as a congressman;

And her eldest son, is a congressman in Pampagna.

Now comes Camarines Sur which has four congressional districts.

The First District has a population of 417,304 and is represented by the President’s youngest son, Diosdado Arroyo, currently on his first term.

The Second District comprises Naga City and has 474,899 people and is represented by the President’s loyal ally, Luis Villafuerte, currently on his second term.

The Third District has a population of 372,548 and is represented by former Speaker Arnulfo P. Fuentebella, currently on his second term.

The Fourth District, comprising Iriga City with 429,070 people, is represented by Felix R. Alfelor, Jr., currently on his third term.

Luis Villafuerte’s bill seeks to split the existing First District into two new districts. But as you may have noticed, at 417,304 residents, the First District’s 83,000 residents shy of totaling half a million residents entitled to two representatives at 250,000 residents each.

Simple, says the Villafuerte bill. Take away some barangays from, say, Villafuerte’s own Second District,and add them to the territory of the first district. Politics is addition, after all.

But then why not away from the 1st, and add to the 2nd, splitting that district then?

Well, it’s because Luis Villafuerte is happy with his district, while there’s a specific political problem splitting the First District would solve.

You see, there’s a potential spoiler to the happiness of the President’s son.

That spoiler is the President’s current Secretary of Budget Management, Rolando Andaya, Jr. He was on his third term as the First District’s representative, when he joined the cabinet, leaving his seat in congress empty and perfect for the President’s son to warm it.

In 2010, Andaya would be out of the cabinet, and eligible to run for congressman again.

That would pit him, a three-termer son of a three-termer, against Dato, a first termer whose mother, theoretically, would soon be out of office.

So why not find a Ramos-like win-win solution? Split the district, give one to Andaya and the other to Dato. Everyobody happy.

Except, it seems, the province’s governor, Elray Villafuerte, who seems to think his dad, Luis, is up to some sort of mischief.

So what we have on one had, is the political nitty-gritty of redistricting, as shown in Camarines Sur; and we also saw that the Senate, with its national perspective, still thinks that all politics is local, considering the keen interest of Caviteno senators in congressional districts.

To his credit, Senate President Enrile’s bill is the first attempt to hew closer to the Constitutions preference for a review of existing districts, based on the latest census, and according to proportional representation.

This Wikipedia Map graphically illustrates the population densities of the existing congressional districts.

The pink districts are those with populations below 250 thousand, the ones in green, from 250 to half a million. The brownish provinces are ones with populations much bigger than the 250 thousand required to justify a district.

The 2nd District of Quezon City alone has 1,559,641 residents, that’s potentially 6 districts that could be carved out of the existing one.

Going back to the yellow to brown areas, there are many that could justify the 100 additional congressional districts Enrile proposes.

So there you have the cut-and-dried legal side, the messy political side, of redistricting. When we return, our clever panel will weigh in on the whole thing.


My view


House members receive an annual pork barrel allocation of P70 million each. They get about P250,000 a month in personal and staff salaries and expenses.

Thus, Enrile’s proposal for 100 more congressmen would mean an additional pork barrel of 7 billion and a monthly budget of 25 million for salaries and expenses. The Senate’s pork barrel, at 200 million each, is 4.8 billion; a combined total of 11.8 billion in pork barrel for Congress.

But that’s peanuts. This year, Congress gave itself 9 billion in pork barrel. The President of the Philippines gets a pork barrel that dwarfs Congress’ in comparison. In the 2009 budget alone, President Arroyo will get to enjoy a 13 billion Peso pork barrel. Even if the House were increased by 100 members, combined with the Senate, their pork barrel would still be smaller than Malacanang’s.

One President is therefore much more expensive than potentially 350 congressmen plus 24 senators.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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