Supreme Court okays new district for Dato
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Following its controversial decision giving President Arroyo the power to appoint the next chief justice, the Supreme Court (SC) has again rendered another ruling that is favorable to the Palace.
The SC junked yesterday a petition of Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III questioning the law signed by the President creating a new congressional district in Camarines Sur that will benefit her son, Rep. Diosdado Ignacio “Dato” Arroyo, and her ally former budget secretary Rolando Andaya.
Voting 9-5 during a summer session in Baguio City, the High Court ruled that RA 9716, which created another district in the province after reapportionment of cities and municipalities, is constitutional, according to SC spokesman Midas Marquez.
The SC dismissed Aquino’s argument in his petition filed in October last year that RA 9716 “constitutes grave abuse of discretion” and “violates the principle of proportional representation.”
In the decision penned by Associate Justice Jose Perez, the Court said that the required population of 250,000 for creation of a district only applies to cities.
“The Court said that this requirement under Article VI, Section 5, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution does not apply to provinces but only to cities. In this case, there is nothing wrong in the reapportionment of Camarines Sur, a province, that left the first district with only 178,000 residents,” Marquez explained in a teleconference.
Eight other justices concurred in the ruling – Senior Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo and Jose Mendoza.
Chief Justice Reynato Puno, Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion and Martin Villarama dissented.
In his dissenting opinion, Carpio said that the 250,000 population is a default requirement in the creation of a district. The other four agreed with him.
Associate Justice Roberto Abad is on official leave.
Carpio argued that the new law signed by the President on Oct. 12 last year had violated the requirement on population for creation of a legislative district as specified in Article VI Section 5 of the Constitution.
He said that after the reapportionment of the province for the creation of the third district, “the first district will have a population of 176,383, way below the population requirement under the Constitution.”
Senator Aquino, in his petition, stressed that the creation of a new district should not be merely based on the benefits it would give to lawmakers.
“It is not a question of whether or not the congressman would agree to the creation of a new legislative district. It is a question of whether or not it would translate to better representation for the people living in the said locality, given that the population of a particular locality has grown so much as to entitle it a new legislative district,” he argued.
“Congressional reapportionment is an issue of the people represented, not the representative,” Aquino stressed.
The LP standard-bearer believes that the new law “would favor them (Rep. Arroyo and former Rep. Andaya)” as the extra congressional district would mean the two would no longer need to run against each other in the May congressional polls.
He was joined by Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo in filing the petition.
No constitutional requirement
RA 9716 originated from House Bill 4264 filed by 2nd District Rep. Luis Villafuerte and was approved by the House of Representatives on June 11, 2008. It was submitted to the Senate six days after.
During public hearings, Sen. Joker Arroyo and Rep. Villafuerte argued that the Constitution did not provide any minimum population requirement for the creation of congressional districts within a province.
They added that while the Constitution requires that cities must have at least 250,000 inhabitants to be entitled to a legislative district, there is no such requirement for provinces.
The provinces of Batanes, Camiguiin, Siquijor, among others, have less than 250,000 inhabitants and yet have their own legislative districts, they explained.
Before the new law was passed, the first district of Camarines Sur was composed of the towns of Del Gallego, Ragay, Lupi, Sipocot, Cabusao, Libmanan, Minabalac, Pamplona, Pasacao and San Fernando with a population of 417,300 two years ago.
The second district, on the other hand, was composed of the towns of Gainza, Milaor, Pili, Ocampo, Camaligan, Canaman, Magarao, Bombon, Calabanga and Naga with a combined population of 474,899 in 2007.
Under R.A. 9716, the municipalities of Libmanan, Minabalac, Pamplona, Pasacao and San Fernando in the first district were consolidated with the municipalities of Gainza and Milaor in the second district to comprise a new district.
The municipalities of Del Gallego, Ragay, Lupi, Sipocot and Cabusao shall continue to be designated as the first legislative district.
The second district shall become the third district composed of Naga City and the municipalities of Pili, Ocampo, Camaigan, Magarao, Bombon and Calatianga.
The new fourth district shall comprise the towns of Caramoan, Garchitorena, Goa, Lagonoy, Presentacion, Sangay, San Jose, Tigaon, Tinambac, and Siruma.
The fifth district shall be composed of Iriga City, Baao, Balatan, Bato, Buhi, Bula and Nabua.
The creation of an additional district prevented a face-off between Andaya and Rep. Arroyo.
Andaya, who served as the representative of the old 1st district from 1998-2007, is now making a comeback in his district and is facing Nacionalista Party’s (NP) Nestor delos Reyes.
The younger Arroyo, meanwhile, is running in the new 2nd district and is facing NP bet and San Fernando Mayor Fermin Mabulo.
NP bet Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. welcomed the SC’s decision and wasted no time in hitting Aquino.
“I think that’s the only battle Noynoy waged, and it was even slammed,” said Villar.
“It is irrelevant who will run and benefit from it. What we follow is the law. This went through the processes of the House of Representatives and the Senate, so we know this is legal,” he added.
One of the senators who debated with Aquino over the issue called the SC decision a double whammy.
Earlier, the SC ruled as unconstitutional RA 8754, which created a legislative district within the city of Malolos.
Aquino supported and shepherded the Malolos bill through the Senate as chairman of the Committee on Local Government.
Malolos residents questioned the bill before the Supreme Court and won.
The source, who debated against Aquino on the issue, noted the irony of the two measures where the senator supported the bill although the last census showed that Malolos had a population of only 227,000, short of the 250,000 constitutional requirement.
At that time, Aquino claimed that Malolos had a potential 250,000 population according to other government agencies, but the SC was not convinced.
In the Camarines Sur bill, Aquino refused to sponsor the House Bill of Rep. Villafuerte because according to him the new district has only 176,383 inhabitants and therefore short of the 250,000 requirement.
“As it turned out, the Supreme Court turned Noynoy down in both cases,” the source said.
“The poignancy of the Camarines Sur bill is that when it was voted upon by the Senate on third and final reading, Noynoy got the support of only one senator, fellow Liberal Kiko Pangilinan while the rest of the Senate went against him,” the same source added. – Artemio Dumlao, Christina Mendez