RP pop'n calls for 350 Congress seats

By Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak

Posted at Aug 31 2009 01:08 PM | Updated as of Aug 31 2009 11:49 PM

Wholesale re-apportioning of congressional districts proposed

(Last of three parts)

The rush in approving an unqualified legislative district in Camarines Sur allegedly for presidential son Dato Arroyo, over other proposals for new districts that meet constitutional requirements, has been criticized by opposition lawmakers. 

What could have prevented the unequal attention given to re-districting proposals for various provinces and cities have long been proposed in Congress, however.

At least 3 bills have been pending in the House of Representatives, seeking to increase the number of district representatives in one sweep, instead of the piecemeal proposals specific to certain local government units. 

Constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas supports the rationale of these bills.

“This periodic reapportionment commanded by the Constitution must be done nationwide and not piecemeal, as is happening now. Piecemeal reapportionment affecting only one province will necessarily result in unconstitutional disproportion with provinces whose districts are not readjusted,” he wrote in a recent column. 

Tremendous increase

The idea for wholesale re-apportionment of districts is rooted in the population requirement of the Constitution—that a locality with at least 250,000 residents should have 1 representative in the House. 

These measures are:

  • House Bill 6005 of House Speaker Prospero Nograles, seeking to increase the membership of the House of Representatives to 300.
  • HB 5943 of Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr., seeking to increase House membership to 350.
  • HB 5962 of Lanao del Norte Rep. Vicente Belmonte, seeking to increase House membership to 350. 

The three bills seek to increase the number of House members in proportion to the increase in the population.

“There has been a tremendous increase in the population in the Philippines since the 1987 Constitution was passed,” the explanatory notes of HB 5943 and HB 6005 read. “It is clear that the 250 members of the House of Representatives no longer satisfy the necessity of popular representation as our population has already reached beyond 90 million.” 

Data from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) showed that as of August 2007, the Philippines had a population of 88.57 million. The 1980 census—the last census conducted before 1987—pegged the number of Filipinos at 48.098 million.

“Apportionment shall be made in accordance with the number of respective inhabitants among provinces and cities, on the basis of uniform and progressive ratio.... The population in some legislative districts have increased remarkably, thus, the necessity of additional representation,”  Belmonte said in his bill. 

Consistent with ‘cha-cha’

The 1987 Constitution initially set the number of legislative districts in the Philippines to 200. Since then, 22 additional districts have been created, more than half of which under the administration of President Arroyo. (Click here to read “Most add’l House seats created under GMA.” 

Section 5-3, Article 6 of the 1987 Constitution mandates that that a city with a population of 250,000 or least one representative and that each legislative district should be composed of “contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory.” 

The Constitution also mandates the Congress to reapportion legislative districts within three years following the return of every census. The last census was conducted in 2007. It is therefore timely to consider the wholesale re-districting next year. 

With a population of 88.57 million and a ratio of 1 district representative per 250,000 people, simple arithmetic will show that the number of legislative districts in the Philippines should be 354, a figure that is close to proposal of some lawmakers.

Groups advocating federalism or the shift to a parliamentary form of government have also drafted revised constitutions that set the number of districts or constituencies at 300 to 350.

Re-appportioning the districts, however, is not as simple as computing the population. There is another requirement in the Constitution that says each legislative district should be composed of  contiguous and adjacent territory. 

Under-represented

If one is to strictly follow the district-population ratio, then the 15 most populous provinces and 6 of the 10 most populous cities in the country are under-represented in Congress. 

The provinces of Cavite and Bulacan, for instance, both have a population of around 2.8 million and should therefore be represented by 11 congressmen each. However, Cavite currently has 3 legislative districts only, while Bulacan has 6 districts (including the lone district for San Jose del Monte City). 

Pangasinan has 2.6 million residents and is entitled to 10 representatives, but it is divided only into 6 districts.

Laguna has a population of around 2.3 million and is therefore entitled to 6 representatives. However, it has only 4 districts now. 

Batangas, Pampanga (including Angeles City), Quezon (including Lucena City), and Nueva Ecija are each divided into 4 legislative districts, although their respective populations qualify them to have 3 or 4 additional districts. (Click here to see table of the 15 most populous provinces and the number of their legislative districts.) 

Six of the 10 most populous cities are also under-represented. Quezon City, the most populous city in the Philippines with 2.679 million inhabitants, is only represented by 4 legislators. In fact, it is entitled to have 10 representatives.  

The second district of Quezon City alone, which has a population of 1.5 million, is entitled to 6 representatives, but is now represented by only 1 lawmaker.

Kalookan City and Davao City both have a population of 1.3 million and should have 5 representatives each. At present, Kalookan is divided into 2 districts, while Davao City has 3. Meanwhile, Cebu City (798,809) and Zamboanga City (774,407) have 2 districts each, although their population entitles them to have 3. (Click here to see table of the 10 most populous provinces and the number of their legislative districts. ) 

Only 5 of the 15 most populous provinces, however, have pending re-districting bills. These are Cavite, Pangasinan, Cebu, Pampanga, and Camarines Sur. Meanwhile, only 2 of the 6 most populous cities that are under-represented—Cebu City and Pasig City—have pending re-apportionment bills.  

This means the lawmakers from some localities are not keen on seeing their current constituencies shrink. (by Jesus Llanto, Newsbreak)

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