Aquino: Congress should re-apportion districts nationwide

By Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 27 2009 06:46 PM | Updated as of Oct 28 2009 09:40 PM

Senator, city mayor go to SC to question new Camarines Sur district

Senator Benigno Aquino III, chair of the Senate committee on local governments, and Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional a recently passed law creating a new district in Camarines Sur, which failed to meet the minimum population requirement and is widely believed to an accommodation for President Arroyo’s son.

Named respondents of the case are Commission on Elections commissioners Jose Melo, Rene Sarmiento, Nicodemo Ferrer, Lucenito Tagle, Armando Velasco, Elias Yusoph, and Gregorio Larrazabal.

Instead of forming unqualified districts on a piecemeal basis, Congress should instead push for a wholesale re-apportionment of congressional districts nationwide, Aquino told Newsbreak right before filing the 37-page petition.

“It is better and more equitable and it can track population movements,” Aquino said.

The 1987 Constitution mandates Congress to re-apportion legislative districts within 3 years following the return of every census. The last census was conducted in 2007. Bills calling for wholesale re-apportionment of districts have been pending in the Congress even before that.

Asked why proposals for a sweeping re-apportionment have not gained support, Aquino said that redistricting has great impact on local political dynamics. “Lawmakers will find out that they may lose their bailiwicks.”

Suddenly unopposed
The new Camarines Sur district being questioned is widely believed to be a case of preserving a politician’s bailiwick. Republic Act 9716 has been seen as a form of accommodation for the president’s son, Rep. Dato Arroyo, who represents the province’s first district.

Talk is rife that Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, the former congressman of the first district, is eyeing a comeback in 2010. The creation of a new district, therefore, will prevent them from facing each other.

“This law favors both of them because they will not face each other in the next election. Bigla silang nawalan ng kalaban (suddenly, they will both be running unopposed),” Aquino told reporters.

He noted the unusual speed with which the bill passed the House of Representatives—a week after it was filed. “Normally, the gestation of the bill last for a year.”

RA 9716 created a new district in Camarines Sur by regrouping the towns of the first and second district.

“The enactment of RA 9716 done beyond the framework of the Constitution clearly shows that the same was accomplished with grave abuse of discretion and in excess of authority. It is patently unconstitutional, manifestly illegal and contrary to the fundamental law of the land,” the petition reads.

Section 5-3, Article 6 of the Constitution requires a minimum population of 250,000 for a local government unit or clusters of LGUs to be declared a congressional district. Each district should be composed of a “contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory.”

Below minimum
Aquino said the law resulted into the creation of a district with a population of 170,000 which is below the minimum population requirement of 250,000.

RA 9716, which was signed on October 12 by President Arroyo, was published on October 15 in Manila Standard newspaper. It will take effect 15 days after the publication, or on October 30.

Under this law, the municipalities of Libmanan, Pamplona , Pasacao and San Fernando of the first district were grouped with the towns of Gainza and Milaor from the second district to form a new district to be called the second district.

The remaining towns of the former first district will become the new first legislative district of the province while the former second district will be renamed as the third legislative district. The former third and fourth district will be called as the new fourth and fifth legislative districts, respectively.

“With the reapportionment of the two districts, the first district will have a population of 176,383, way below the population requirement under the Constitution,” the petition reads.

Why not entire Camsur?

Robredo, meanwhile, said that aside from being unconstitutional, the law is inequitable and lacks consultation with the residents. He added that if one is to follow the proportion stated in the Constitution, Camarines Sur is entitled to six districts because it has a population of 1.6 million.

“Why did they choose to district that part of the province only? Why did they not consider reapportioning the entire province?” Robredo told Newsbreak.

“Camarines Sur should have six districts but if they make it six, there will be changes in the dynamics of local politics,” Robredo said.

Aquino added that this law might encourage lawmakers to propose creation of new districts with population less than 250,000. “There are changing what has been traditionally been accepted as the rule. What will prevent other proposed districts with population of 170,000 from asking for additional representation?”

Unlike Makati

Aquino said the case of Camarines Sur is different from what happened when a new legislative district was created in Makati City after its conversion into a highly urbanized city in through Republic Act 7854 in 1995.

The case of Makati City has been by cited Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte and Senator Joker Arroyo during the height of the deliberations on the proposed new district. Republic Act 7854 added a new legislative district in Makati and was also questioned before the Supreme Court because the city’s population, based on 1990 census, was only 450,000.

The case was filed by Juanito Amatong, a Makati resident against the Commission on Elections. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition for lack of merit.

“Even granting that the population of Makati as of the 1990 census stood at four hundred fifty thousand (450,000), its legislative district may still be increased since it has met the minimum population requirement of two hundred fifty thousand (250,000). In fact, section 3 of the Ordinance appended to the Constitution provides that a city whose population has increased to more than two hundred fifty thousand (250,000) shall be entitled to at least one congressional representative,” the SC decision on Mariano v. Comelec reads.

Aquino, however, said the same decision contained a footnote that states that a certification from the then National Census and Statistics Office was issued and it said that the population of 1994 was already 508,174.

“The legislators knew already that the population of Makati has reached 500,000 before the law took effect,” Aquino told Newsbreak. “If you have a population of 250,001 does that mean there is a need to create a new district?” (Newsbreak)

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