HOUSE Speaker Prospero Nograles on Wednesday announced that the House of Representatives would petition the Supreme Court (SC) for a Declaratory Relief to usher in new partylist representatives in light of the recent High Court decision adding 32 party-list seats in the House.
The current number of lawmakers, including partylist representatives, is 238. This would be raised to 270 after the SC ruled that all 55 seats for party-list groups should be filled up.
Nograles said, “There is a big constitutional issue with respect to the Supreme Court ruling because the present Constitution only provides 250 seats for the House of Representatives. Accommodating 32 new party-list seats would bring the total number of House members to 270 and the creation of 192 additional co-terminus positions.”
The House Speaker disclosed that the House is exploring the option of filing a petition with the SC for a “Declaratory Relief on the issue of constitutionality as the bigger chamber of Congress is only limited to 250 members with 20 percent party-list members.”
Enrile withdraws bill
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile withdrew yesterday his bill seeking to increase the membership ceiling of the House from 250 to 350 following the SC ruling.
Enrile filed his bill after noting that the increase in the number of legislative districts to 220 has eroded the 20 percent of 250 House seats reserved for partylist representatives. He said before that the 20 percent could be observed by increasing the House seats to 350.
“The Supreme Court said that any increase in the number of legislative district will automatically increase the number of seats for party-list representatives to maintain their 80-20 ratio,” he said.
The Supreme Court calculated that the House should have 275 members to allow partylist representatives to enjoy their 20-percent share.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, meanwhile, said she expected a big increase of partylist organizations to join the next election.
“Most of them will have names starting in A as in Agaw Buhay, or “B” as in Buwaya so they will appear high on the list. I think there should be a change in the system,” she said.
She added that the increase in the number of partylist representatives would entail an increase in the expenses of the House to cover added salaries and pork barrel.
Pressed for office space, budget
At the House, Nograles seemed amenable to the additional 32 partylist seats, but said he lamented that the House currently lacks office spaces to accommodate new partylist representatives.
He also revealed that the House would need to supplement the present budget of the House, as the SC ruling would mean at least an estimated P200 million to maintain the salaries of new staff and the day-to-day operations of 32 new congressional offices for the remaining eight months of 2009, excluding provisions for new offices, electricity, and other needs.
According to the House Speaker, new congressional offices at the Batasan Complex will only be available after the completion of the new P700-million South Wing annex building that is now under construction. The four-storey building is expected to be completed next year.
“Until then, I am in a big quandary where to put them,” he said.
Measure raising House members to 300
Also on Wednesday, the House Committee on Revision of Laws, voting 4-2, passed House Bill (HB) 5943 authored by Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr. and HB 6005 by Nograles that seek to raise the minimum number of House lawmakers from 250 to 300. The vote virtually dismantles any Constitutional obstacle to the SC’s order to add 32 new partylist seats.
Rep. Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur said the House can file a bill seeking supplementary budget for the extra party-list seats.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, however, objected to the measure while his proposal to increase congressional district population size, embodied in HB 6114, is pending in the same committee.
Rodriguez proposed that each district should have a population of 400,000 instead of the current 250,000 so the number of seats would not need to be raised due to population growth.
Palace defends Palparan
Malacañang hailed the decision of the Supreme Court that gives wider representation to partylist organizations by filling up all 55 partylist seats at the House.
At the same time, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita defended retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr., who will benefit from the SC ruling, saying the former military official is qualified for the post as a representative.
“General Palparan is an experienced officer. He would not have been promoted if he was not qualified and so he can definitely contribute [to the House]. He has contributed much in the counterinsurgency effort,” Ermita said.
Palaparan, dubbed as “the Butcher” by political activists, is the representative of Bantay party-list, an organization that focuses on anti-communism work.
Bantay ranked 32nd on the Supreme Court’s list of partylist groups entitled to have seats in the Lower House. The court ruling was released Tuesday.
However, Ermita tried to isolate the Palace from the Palparan issue, saying the decision was handed down by High Court and not by Malacañang.
SC decision constitutional
Acting SC spokesperson, lawyer Gleo Guerra, clarified Wednesday that the Court en banc decision was constitutional, contrary to claims by House Speaker Prospero Nograles that the decision could have possibly violated Article VI, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution.
Guerra said the Constitution was very clear when it said, “House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than 250 members, unless otherwise, fixed by law.”
“So it’s written here. Constitution allows the legislature to modify the number of the members of the House of Representatives,” Guerra stressed, adding that under the partylist law there is a provision that states that the partylist shall be 20 percent of the total membership of the House including that of the party-list representatives.
“This is how the Supreme Court construed the Constitution,” Guerra said, adding that any budgetary problem in its implementation is none of the Court’s concern.
Veterans formula altered
The SC, in coming out wit its decision, changed the formula for allocating seats for party list representatives as the previous formula known as the “Veteran’s Formula,” penned in 2000 by then Associate Justice Artemio Panganiban could never fill-up the 55 seats allocation as provided for under the Constitution and the partylist law.
Guerra that using the Veteran’s Formula, the Comission on Elections (Comelec) proclaimed 23 seating partylist representatives prompting the Banat partylist group to file a complaint to fill up the remaining seats. Under the new formula, which Guerra called the “Banat Formula,” all partylist groups, which got at least two percent of the total votes cast for partylist representatives is already guaranteed one seat.
“The Court removed the two percent threshold requirement in the allocation of the remaining seas. That was the big difference from the previous formula…” Guerra added.
Militant partylist lawmakers vowed on Wednesday to block retired Major General Jovito Palparan’s possible assumption of office as a partylist lawmaker in lieu of the Supreme Court ruling on April 21 adding 32 party-list representatives in Congress.
House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said the militant bloc would move to prevent the Comelec from proclaiming Palparan as a partylist representative.
“We are in fact preparing an urgent motion for the disqualification of Palparan as a party-list nominee. Rewarding this acknowledged notorious human rights violator with a seat in Congress will be a mockery of the partylist system,” Ocampo said.
The lawmaker said, “Palparan is not marginalized nor does he represent any marginalized sector.”
Palparan has been appointed by President Macapagal-Arroyo as director of Freeport Services Corp. (FSC), a subsidiary of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). The recent Supreme Court decision gives him a choice to become congressman.
— with Efren Danao and William Depasupil, Manila Times