Friday, September 11, 2009

The Politics of Redistricting

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

The creation of new legislative districts, and the resulting increase in the number of representatives in the Philippine Congress has been an on-and-off issue the past years.

It gained prominence early this year when the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional the 2% threshold in the Party List Law (R.A. 7941) and added 54 more party-list representatives to the roster of House members. This SC decision came on the heels of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's proposal, through Senate Bill 2353, to increase the membership of Congress from 250 to 350.

The issue of redistricting has again gone back to center stage with the impending passage of a bill that would carve a new congressional district in Camarines Sur.

Using the 250,000-1 constituent-to-representative ratio required in the Constitution, Camarines Sur clearly deserves more representatives. What's the catch? The new congressional seat is being created so that DBM Secretary Nonoy Andaya can go back to Congress after giving his seat to Dato Arroyo in 2007!!

The rationale for redistricting and representation is contained in Section 5, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution which states that 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.

The Constitution also instructs Congress within three years after every census, to pass a law that will reapportion legislative districts (Section 5, Article VI).

The problem with Congress is that it has been unable, and unwilling, to do its Constitutional task. The last serious attempt to undertake a nationwide redistricting was done in the 8th Congress through Rep. Lally Laurel-Trinidad. The redistricting bill passed the House committees and reached plenary debates. Unfortunately, the bill died on the floor as legislators were unable to agree on how to draw the lines for legislative districts.

In the absence of a general redistricting law, Congress has been creating new legislative districts every time it converts a municipality into a city, creates a new province, or in the case of Camarines Sur, splitting an existing district into two.

Senator Noynoy Aquino and I discussed this brewing controversy at the Crossroads program of Tony Velasquez on ANC two days ago. Senator Aquino is trying his darn best to stop the Joker Arroyo-Louie Villafuerte-Nonoy Andaya-Dato Arroyo sponsored Camarines Sur redistricting because it would violate the 250,000-1 constituent-legislator ratio.

He also questioned the “high priority” given to the bill creating a new district in Camarines Sur over those that redistrict Cavite and Camarines Norte. If he loses the fight, he promised to bring it all the way to the Supreme Court.

The culprit in this whole problem is Congress itself. By refusing to do its Constitutional task to undertake a nationwide redistricting after every census, it has created a system that disadvantages areas that have no powerful political patrons in Congress, are in the opposition, or do not have a Dato or Mikey Arroyo.

What makes Camarines Sur more important than District II in Quezon City which has 1.5 million people and 1 representative? or Pangasinan where 2 million residents are represented by only 6 members in Congress?

They all don't have a Dato Arroyo, a Joker Arroyo, or a Nonoy Andaya.

Or maybe we should ask Joker Arroyo who is pushing for the new district, or Noynoy Aquino who is the chair of the Senate Committee on Local Governments - why haven't you championed a national redistricting law in your more than ten years in Congress so we are not caught in this vicious problem?

Pray tell us why!!

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