MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Joker Arroyo yesterday slammed the Supreme Court (SC) over its ruling that the party-list representatives are entitled to 55 seats in the House of Representatives.
Arroyo said the High Court violated the principle of separation of powers and encroached on the role of Congress to legislate additional congressional seats.
The veteran lawmaker said it was not correct for the SC to provide a formula for filling up the entire 55 seats because it is the duty of Congress to pass and enact laws that would approve the creation of new seats at the lower house.
“The High Court has invaded the legislative domain of Congress. It substituted its formula instead of waiting for Congress to correct it. Look at the practical effects of the High Court’s judicial legislation which was done without benefit of public hearings so essential to lawmaking,” Arroyo said.
“Sad to say, the Supreme Court proclaimed what it rarely does. It ruled that its ‘decision is immediately executory,’ thereby peremptorily foreclosing any and all remedies that affected parties may pursue and thus negates the sporting chance of fair play,” he said.
Arroyo assailed the “display of judicial activism” of the SC in Banat vs. Comelec, which he said “introduced a new dimension regarding the judiciary’s involvement in legislation.”
“Here, we see the Court overthrowing the time-honored principle of separation of powers and undermining the authority of legislature by encroaching upon the sphere reserved for it by the Constitution,” he said.
The Constitution provides that the House “shall be composed of not more than 250 members, unless otherwise provided by law” and out of that membership the party-list representatives shall constitute 20 percent.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago also criticized the SC decision because, according to her, it caused more problems than it resolved regarding party-list representation.
“In reality, it’s going to produce a big, big headache for the bureaucracy. I don’t see why that decision has to say effective immediately. What could have been said is effective the 2010 elections. We are completely unprepared for this influx of new party-list representatives,” she said.
Santiago said there is a need to address the concerns of office space and the appropriation for the new party-list groups and their staff.
However, the lack of office space at the Batasan complex seems to be the least of the incoming party-list representatives’ problems.
Sources at the House told The STAR that the new members of the chamber are eyeing private buildings along Commonwealth Avenue.
If the new lawmakers choose to hold office outside the Batasan complex, it will be the House – and taxpayers – that will foot the bill, in the same manner that it is the Senate that pays for the offices in private buildings of several senators.
To save on office space cost, Speaker Prospero Nograles, who said last Thursday that the House has no funds and space for its new members, has told secretariat officials to look for rooms at the Batasan.
The officials said they have suggested that leaders of the chamber who are presently occupying two rooms should give up one to accommodate the additional party-list representatives.
Among those with two rooms are Nograles, Majority Leader Arthur Defensor, the six deputy speakers – Amelita Villarosa, Pablo Garcia, Simeon Datumanong, Eric Singson, Raul del Mar, and Arnulfo Fuentebella, Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, and the chairmen of various committees.
Nograles and his colleagues have offices as officers of the House and committee chairmen, and separate offices as congressmen and congresswomen.
Secretariat officials have also suggested that the House eject the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population Development (PLCPD), a private advocacy group that has a 6th-floor office at the Batasan main building.
Palparan hits back
In a related development, retired Major General Jovito Palparan defended himself yesterday from criticism that as a newly proclaimed party-list representative, he does not represent a marginal sector.
“I represent people involved in the conduct of security and peace and order, especially in the hinterlands. These are the barangay tanods, Cafgus (Citizens Armed Force Geographical Units), security guards, and retirement military personnel. I also represent peasants in these communities,” said the lone representative of a group called Bantay.
He said he would work to uplift the “economic condition” of the people he claims to represent.
Palparan has come under fire from militant House members led by Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna for not being a marginal sector representative.
Bayan Muna and other activist groups are blaming the retired general for the disappearance or killing of tens of their members, some of whom are still missing. They have labeled him “The Butcher.”
He said he is not a cold-blooded killer and is ready to reach out to Ocampo and his other critics.
“I can in fact sit with them, I have no problem with that. I don’t know about them,” he said, noting that he would be seated not far from Ocampo if the seating arrangement were by alphabetical order.
But it’s not only the militant lawmakers who are making a fuss about Palparan’s inclusion in the House.
Members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday voiced their objection to his inclusion, as well as the sister of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, to the roster of the House of Representatives.
Emeritus Bishop of Novaliches Teodoro Bacani told CBCPNews, the official news service provider of the CBCP, that he has “serious reservations” on the appointment of Palparan to represent the Bantay party-list group.
“Palparan has already been rebuked by the Melo Commission for his human rights violations and I do not know what sense there is in putting in Congress a man who is notoriously reputed to be a human rights violator,” he said.
Bacani also aired his concern over the SC’s decision to allow Ma. Lourdes Arroyo to sit in Congress.
She is the nominee of Ang Kasangga, representing the sector of small entrepreneurs such as balut vendors, and will be the fourth Arroyo to sit in Congress.
“Being a member of the Constitutional Commission during President Aquino’s time, our idea of party-list representatives should represent underprivileged groups and somehow should be identified with the underprivileged groups,” Bacani said.
Bacani was one of the members of the 1986 Constitutional Convention.
Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, on the other hand, said that the Catholic Church is against political dynasties. “This is obvious already.”
But Malacañang appealed to the critics of the two to allow them to serve their constituents as party-list representatives.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo pointed out that the people elected the party-list groups and not the individuals, so the two nominees should be allowed to serve their constituents. – Christina Mendez With Jess Diaz, Ding Cervantes, Evelyn Macairan, Marvin Sy, Philippine Star