The Explainer: Gerrymandering

That was the schismatic anti-pope Clement in Spain, supposedly having an angelic vision of Jesus.

Of course not just heretics and schismatics claim to have angelic visions. Genuine saints do, too. On the other hand His Excellency Bishop Marquez of Lucena had a more earthly vision, that of his province being divided in half.

And so, sometime, though no one’s sure quite when, a plebiscite is expected to take place in Quezon Province. Now in the past, I’ve talked on this program about gerrymandering. As another political entity’s proposed, let’s focus on a real life case and find out if Bishop Marquez’s advocacy counts as gerrymandering or not.

It’s plebiscite night on the Explainer. I’m Manolo Quezon.


I. No money, no honey


Last Friday, after she attended a party at Fiama Bar in Makati to celebrate the birthday of the Speaker of the House, President Arroyo rushed to the Palace. She had an appointment with God, as you can see in this video:

The prelate giving communion to the President is Lucena bishop Emilio Marquez.

Along with the Most Reverend Marquez was the Honorable Danilo Suarez, representative of the 3rd District of Quezon Province.

Together with the Honorable Lorenzo Tanada III, bishop Marquez and Congressman Suarez are the leading proponents of dividing Quezon Province into two new provinces, Quezon del Norte and Quezon del Sur.

However, as this catalog of projects on the DPWH website will show you, since Representative Suarez is affiliated with the President, he’s in a better position to solve a problem.

But before we tackle that problem, a backgrounder on the proposed split of Quezon Province.

It all began in 1998, when, after being approached by bishop Marquez, then Rep. Bobby Tanada filed House bill 702, which proposed dividing Quezon Province into two: Quezon del Norte and Quezon del Sur. In 2004 his son, Erin Tanada, holding the same position, together with Reps. Danilo Suarez, Rafael Nantes, and Proceso Alcala, filed a similar bill (No. 2862) in 2004. Without any fanfare, the 13th Congress passed the proposal as Republic Act 9495.

The law says that the first and second districts of the existing province will be known as Quezon del Norte. Lucena City will remain as the capital, with the following municipalities: Burdeos, Gen. Nakar, Infanta, Jomalig, Lukban, Mauban, Pagbilao, Patnanungan, Polillo, Real, Sampaloc, Tayabas, Candelaria, Dolores, San Antonio, Sariaya, Tiaong.

Quezon del Sur will have Gumaca as its capital, with the following towns from the present third and fourth districts of the province: Agdangan, Buenavista, Catanauan, General Luna, Macalelon, Mulanay, Padre Burgos, Pitogo, San Andres, San Francisco, San Narciso, Unisan, Alabat, Atimonan, Calauag, Guinyangan, Lopez, Perez, Plaridel, Quezon, and Tagkawayan.

After Republic Act 9495 lapsed into law without the President’s signature on September 7, 2007, it was published in the Official Gazette’s Volume 104, No. 16, on April 21, 2008. This means that according to the provisions of the law, the plebiscite was supposed to take place on June 21, 2008. That problem is this.

But the plebiscite didn’t take place. The reason was that the Comelec had to finance the ARMM automated elections.

So then Republic Act 9495 appeared in the pages of The Manila Times and the Manila Standard Today, in late September. By that reckoning, if you count the operation of the law from the date of publication, and thus, the enforceability of the law by that date, the plebiscite can he held on December 6.

The latest is that the Department of Budget and Management has finally released funds for the plebiscite, to the Comelec. So if you wonder why the bishop of Lucena and Representative Suarez have been so public about their support for the President, I think you should ask Secretary Rolando Andaya.

But even as there must be rejoicing in the conventos of Quezon province, the whole issue has become bogged down in a debate. Why a debate ensues every time a proposal to split a problem is made, is something we’ll tackle when we return.


II. Republic of Lilliput


That was a pretty cute YouTube video criticizing the political practice of Gerrymandering.

This brings us to the reason any proposal, such as dividing a province, becomes controversial. To some people it just makes no sense.

Fellow Inquirer columnist Juan Mercado has been a voice crying in the wilderness. He’s long warned of the growing trend of having what he calls “Lilliputian provinces, pygmy governors.” He was referring to the imaginary country of Lilliput, inhabited by people 6 inches high, in Jonathan Swift’s satirical “Gulliver’s Travels”. The process of creating new provinces, Mercado argues, is motivated by the small-minded desires of political leaders more interested in subdividing the country for their dynastic convenience.

The Americans call subdividing things or redrawing political lines of the map with their re-election in mind, it Gerrymandering, or “manipulate the boundaries of [an electoral constituency] so as to favor one party or class.” It has to do with this gentleman:

Elbridge Thomas Gerry, 5th Vice-President of the United States briefly under James Madison. As Governor of Massachussets, Gerry signed a bill into law that redistricted his state to benefit his Democratic-Republican party.

The  Boston Gazette on March 26, 1812 then published this editorial cartoon, to criticize the law:

In Wikipedia, there’s this neat graphic illustrating how gerrymandering helps a party:

Let’s imagine a state, or in our case, a province with 4 districts and a 36:28 Green (G) party majority.

Top left: Magenta (M) party wins the urban district, while G party wins the 3 rural/suburban districts — the result expresses and enhances the fact that G is the state-wide majority party.

Top right: by redesigning the 4 districts, there is a 2:2 tie, with G dominating the 2 new rural districts and M dominating the 2 new urban/suburban districts — closer to proportionality, but masking the fact that G is the state-wide majority party.

Bottom left: Creating 4 mixed-type districts can yield a 4:0 win to G — a disproportional result considering the state-wide reality.

Bottom right: With classical Gerrymandering techniques it is even possible to ensure a 1:3 win to the state-wide minority, M party.

Here’s just two quick examples from the USA, show in the Wikpedia entry:


You can therefore see, that whether it’s to help a party, or a family, in our case, usually an entrenched political dynasty, gerrymandering’s useful.

Now going back to real life, Quezon Province has been divided before.

In 1951 President Elpidio Quirino created the sub-province of Aurora.

And in later years, proposals were made in Congress to separate the sub-province of Aurora from Quezon Province.

During one such discussion in Congress, Senator Lorenzo Tanada sent a telegram to his supporters in Lucena.

“Please object to the bill proposing the autonomy of Aurora as a distinct local unit,” the telegram asked his constituents.  He said that separating the sub province of Aurora from Quezon was not the solution to charting its future or a way to improve the prospects of progress for the whole province as it would only create a new homegrown principalia interested only in their personal economic advancement.

But then during the Marcos years, in 1979, the province was split into Quezon and Aurora anyway.

The late Lorenzo Tañada’s argument is one maintained by Juan Mercado: the creation of new provinces is justified on developmental grounds, but in reality, what it fosters is the political dominance of the political class that engineered the creation of the new province. Mercado seems to think that Gerrymandering is out of control. Does this belief have a basis in fact? Have our congressmen gone berserk?

Here’s a visual clue. In 1951, President Elpidio Quirino added the ring of stars you see around the presidential seal. His E.O. 451 stated the number of stars equaled the number of provinces in the Philippines. At that time, it was 52. In 1998, President Joseph Estrada (E.O. 19) amended the Quirino order, stating that the number of stars would thereafter be determined by the number of provinces the country has, at any given time. In 2003, President Arroyo clarified things further through E.O. 310. When she signed that order, the country had 79 provinces. Today, the country has 81 provinces. We have even more cities than we do provinces. In 1996, we had 61 chartered cities. In June, 2000, we had 84; by the end of that year, we had 96, and by 2004, we had 117.

In contrast, Indonesia, which is also an archipelago, had 10 provinces when it achieved independence. Today, it has 33 (subdivided into regencies which have received increased autonomy since 2001), and of these, seven new provinces were created since 2000. Malaysia is a federation of 13 states (9 sultanates, two states with governors, and two federal territories, including Kuala Lumpur). Since independence, Malaysia has created only two additional states: Kuala Lumpur (which split from Selangor) and Putrajaya, which split off from Sepang district in Selangor state. Even Thailand has 76 provinces and 2 specially governed districts. The number of Thai provinces has actually gone down: in 1915, the country, then Siam, had 83 provinces. Provinces were actually merged from 1915 to 1950. From 1951 to the present, only about 10 additional provinces were created, after the period of provincial consolidation. India, gigantic in size (7th largest country in the world), has 28 states and 7 federally governed union territories.

Do you remember how the division of Cebu into new provinces was proposed? You will recall I spoke favorably of the decision of the Cebuano electorate to maintain the unity of their province.

This Wikipedia map shows that the Cebuanos, who resisted the gerrymandering their officials wanted, had past precedents to guide them. In 1995 voters rejected splitting Isabela into two.

I remember asking back during the debates over the future of Cebu, if instead of further subdividing the country, we shouldn’t consider consolidating our provinces. It’s quite conceivable that we will manage to double the number of provinces from the 52 in 1951, to 102 within the next decade, or a period of 60 years. In the same amount of time, it hardly seems possible that our neighbors will do the same. Yet our national territory has remained fixed, and with the vast increase in political subdivisions, who can show any benefits to the public?

The debate over Quezon province’s division will surely be one to watch with as much interest as the debates over the division of Cebu.

The battlelines are clear.

The Catholic Church will go great guns for the division, in tandem with the political leadership of the 3rd and 4th congressional districts who stand to gain a new province.

On the other side is what can only be called, in political terms, a pipsqueak movement

If you have a chance to go online and want to see what ordinary citizens think, a good place to start are the forums in Skyscraper City. You can also go to Google and search for blogs, including those of residents of Gumaca, some of whom are happy their city could become a provincial capitol, others who aren’t as keen.

When we return, we’ll have the pros and cons give their sides.


My view


Sa darating na plebisito sa lalawigan ng quezon, merong pabor at merong tumututol sa paghati ng probinsya. Nasa kamay ng mga residente ng probinsya ang kapakanan ng kanilang probinsya. Narinig ninyo ngayong gabi ang ilang dahilang kung bakit magkaroon ng quezon del norte at quezon del sur. Narinig din ninyo ang ilang dahilang kung bakit dapat manatili ang kasulukuyang teritoryo ng lalawigan.

Ayon kay atty. Pulgar, kung walong daang libo ang botante sa quezon, ochenta porsyento o animanput daang libong botante ang nakikilahok sa pambansang eleksyon. Ngunit ayon sa kasaysayan ng mga plebisitong pang-lokal, bumababa ang porsyento ng botanteng nakikilahok hanggang sampu o kinseng porsyento lamang.

Ang ibig sabihin nito ay posibleng nasa kamay ng isandaang dalawamput libong botante lamang ang kapakanan ng lalawigan. Sa aking palagay, hindi naman dapat maging ganito ang partisipasyon ng taong bayan sa isang plebisito tungkol sa hinaharap ng kanilang lupang tinubuan.

Kaya sang ayon o tutol man kayo, sana naman makilahok kayo sa darating na kampanya. At tanggapin kung ano man ang tutoong gusto ng mga mamayan ayon sa botohan. Anuman ang mangyari, huwag lang po sana umabot sa sisihan ang resulta ng plebisito. Hindi ito panahon para mag tulog-tulugan at mag bulag-bulagan.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.