Supreme Court adds 32 more party-list congressmen

Published by rudy Date posted on April 22, 2009

THE Supreme Court ruling that will add 32 party-list seats to Congress would cost P2.5 billion and push the number of lawmakers past the 250 limit allowed by the Constitution, House leaders said yesterday.

Speaker Prospero Nograles said that, for those reasons, the House would ask the Supreme Court to reconsider it’s decision to raise the number of party-list seats to 55 from 23.

‘‘This is a big headache,” Nograles said.

“We have to build a new two-story building that would cost at least P100 million to accommodate 32 more offices and six additional staff for each congressman, or a total of 192 co-terminus employees.’’

The House has an allocation of P3.9 billion in operating funds for 2009.

Because each office is allocated P350,000 a month, the 32 new offices would cost P134.4 million annually. Each of the new party-list representatives would also need P70 million in pork barrel funds a year, bringing the total to P2.24 billion.

In a parliamentary inquiry, House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said the 32 new seats should concern the House because the court’s decision was ‘‘immediately executory.’’

‘‘The House [should] appeal this to the Supreme Court because some of the major implications should concern us, ” he said.

“To my understanding, there are 20 more seats than what is allowed in the present Constitution. We are now 238, and the 32 new seats make us 270 when the Constitution gives a limit of only up to 250 members.

‘‘This makes the 20 of us illegally sitting,’’ Zamora said.

House Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong, who presided over the session, said the House leadership shared Zamora’s concern and added it would ‘‘act accordingly.’’

Under the Constitution, Nograles said, party-list seats should only number up to 50 to represent 20 percent of the 250-limit.

The 32 new seats added to the existing 22 would make 54, or four seats over the legal limit.

Nograles said that to accommodate the 32 new congressmen, the House would be forced to speed up the passage of a bill filed by Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr., which seeks to create 50 new districts to bring the total districts nationwide to 264, and to make it constitutional for the four congressmen to sit.

But Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said the Court allowed Bayan Muna to gain the third seat to be occupied by lawyer Neri Colmenares. The youth arm of Bayan Muna, Kabataang Pinoy, also won a seat to be occupied by Raymond Palatino, a former UP Student Council chairman.

Anakpawis also earned one more seat to be occupied by Joel Maglunsod. Akbayan named Walden Bello as its second representative.

The predominantly militant party-list lawmakers will also be joined by retired Gen. Jovito Palparan, who won a seat for the Bantay Party-List Group. Palparan has consistently been accused of being behind the killings of militant activists, a charge he vehemently denies.

In its ruling, written by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the Court said it was unconstitutional to apply the 2 percent threshold to the granting of additional party-list seats beyond the third seat.

“This court finds that the 2-percent threshold makes it mathematically impossible to achieve the maximum number of available party-list seats when the number of available party-list seats exceeds 50,” the Court said.

“The continued operation of the 2-percent threshold in the distribution of the additional seats frustrates the attainment of the permissive ceiling that 20 percent of the members of the House of Representatives shall consist of party-list representatives.’’

The Court’s ruling granted the petition by the Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency to compel the Commission on Elections to proclaim the full number of party-list representatives as provided by the Constitution.–Christine F. Herrera and Rey E. Requejo, Manila Standard Today

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