The Long View
Inheritance battle before Supreme Court
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:04:00 10/29/2009
Senator Benigno Aquino III, together with Mayor Jesse Robredo, filed two days ago a petition before the Supreme Court – to nullify the law creating a new congressional district in Camarines Sur. The basis of their objection is a simple one: the enacted new district fails to meet the basic population requirement for House representation.
During the deliberations in Congress, Sen. Joker Arroyo and Rep. Luis Villafuerte both argued that the law was valid because the Constitution stipulates a population requirement only for city districts, but does not specify non-city districts.
So it seems there are two interpretations of the Constitution duking it out, which suggests a valid case has been filed; but is it a case that ought to have arisen at all?
The Constitution provides that 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! However, the Constitution also says the lower house should have a maximum of 250 members, until and unless Congress passes a law changing that number.
If Congress decides to create new districts, then it has to do so bearing in mind the following parameters: every province is entitled to representation, each district should meet a population requirement, and the total composition of the House has to fit within the maximum number of seats provided by law.
What this means is that when Congress embarks on redistricting, it has to do so on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio. 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. Another one’s due to take place in 2010. That means Congress ought to have redistricted the country in 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2007. But it has only done so piecemeal: which means each enacted new district could conceivably represent a violation of the right to representation of everyone else; or by means of turning established constitutional principles upside down, something Villafuerte is pretty good at.
If all politics is local, then a local need will result in a way being found to satisfy that need.
Some months ago, seeing that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has a brother-in-law as a congressman, and that her eldest son is a congressman in Pampanga, and her younger son represents a district in Camarines Sur, I thought it would be interesting to look at the latter provinces four congressional districts.
The first district has a population of 417,304 and is represented by the President’s youngest son, Diosdado “Dato” 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.
Villafuerte’s House Bill 4264 (successfully) sought to split the existing first district into two districts. But as you may have noticed, at 417,304 residents, the first district is shy of the number required for it to be entitled to two representatives (one for every 250,000 residents).
Simple, said 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 take away from the first and add to the second, splitting the latter then?
Well, it’s because Villafuerte’s happy with his district, while there’s a specific political problem in the first district: a potential spoiler to the continued political happiness of the President’s son.
That spoiler is the President’s current budget secretary, 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 either be out of office or a mere representative for Pampanga in 2010.
So why not find a Ramos-like win-win solution? Split the district, give one to Andaya and the other to Dato. Everybody happy! The new district was approved in the House on June 11, 2008. In the Senate, it was approved on Sept. 27, 2009. Among those being eyed as presidential or vice presidential contenders, only Senators Noynoy Aquino and Kiko Pangilinan voted against it; Mar Roxas came in late; Loren Legarda was absent; Chiz Escudero, Dick Gordon, and Manny Villar voted for it.
The result was Republic Act 9716, creating a new second district from the old first district (retaining the latter’s designation as such); and renaming the existing second, third and fourth districts the third, fourth and fifth districts, respectively, while retaining their current size and territory.
At stake is the political inheritance of Diosdado Arroyo.