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SC increases House party-list reps to 55

Justices junk Panganiban formula

By Vincent Cabreza
Inquirer Northern Luzon
First Posted 01:21:00 04/22/2009

Filed Under: Legal issues, Politics, Judiciary (system of justice), Elections, Congress

BAGUIO CITY?The Supreme Court Tuesday increased to 55 the number of seats in the House of Representatives for party-list groups when it ordered the Commission on Elections to follow a new formula for allotting party-list seats.

There are currently 22 seats in the 14th Congress occupied by 16 party-list groups.

The ruling, which is effective immediately, is expected to pave the way for retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. to become a member of the House.

Voting unanimously, the high court declared unconstitutional the threshold which the Comelec had used to cap the allocations for party-list seats in the House.

Following the Party-list System Act of 1995, or Republic Act No. 7941 and the Panganiban formula, the Comelec said only party-list organizations garnering at least 2 percent of the total votes cast nationwide for the party-list system shall be entitled to one seat each.

The tribunal, sitting en banc, introduced a new formula after concluding that the threshold used by the Comelec ?makes it mathematically impossible? to distribute the additional seats won by leading party-list groups ?when the number of available seats exceeds 50.?

[The 2-percent threshold followed by the Comelec appears to be based on the original 250 seats of the House?20 percent of 250 is 50 and 100 percent divided by 50 seats is 2 percent per seat.]

Under its formula, the tribunal is allowing 36 winning party-list groups to fill up the seats equivalent to 20 percent of the House as prescribed by the Constitution.

The tribunal said the 20 percent was equivalent to 55 seats, up from only 17 guaranteed party-list seats under the 2-percent rule.

Although filling up the 55-seats was not meant to be mandatory, the Supreme Court said the continuous application of the 2-percent threshold ?frustrates the attainment of the permissive ceiling that 20 percent of the members of the House of Representatives shall consist of party-list representatives.?

Comelec to follow ruling

In Manila, Comelec Chair Jose Melo said the poll body would follow the Supreme Court?s new formula on the computation of party-list seats in the 2010 elections.

Although he had not yet read the Supreme Court?s decision debunking the formula set by retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, the Comelec chair said he was made aware of the ruling.

?We have to follow that. We will use it in 2010,? he said.

Under the so-called Panganiban formula, calculating the number of seats is based on the number of votes obtained by the party-list group that got the biggest number of votes.

2-percent threshold not viable

In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Eduardo Nachura Jr. said the 2-percent threshold, as it stands, required a far bigger congressional composition to make sense.

?There will never be a situation where the number of party-list representatives will exceed 50, regardless of the number of district representatives,? he said.

Nachura added: ?I see a scenario in the future when, because of the inexorable growth in the country?s population, Congress should see fit to increase the legislative district seats to 400.

?If that happens, there would be a corresponding adjustment in party-list representation that will translate to 100 party-list seats.

?However, with the burgeoning of the population, the steady increase in the party-list allotment as it keeps pace with the creation of additional legislative districts and the foreseeable growth of party-list groups, the 2-percent requirement is no longer viable? because it prevents the fundamental law from ever being fully operative,? Nachura said.

The tribunal?s decision addressed the separate petitions filed by Banat (Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency) in August 2007 and by Bayan Muna in July 2007 which challenged the Comelec formula for allocating additional party-list seats.

From party-list

The justices were divided on the discussions between Chief Justice Reynato Puno and Associate Justice Antonio Carpio over whether major political parties should join the party-list system.

Voting 8-7, the court reiterated a previous ruling which disallowed major political parties from participating in party-list elections.

Carpio said: ?The framers of the Constitution clearly intended the party-list elections through their sectoral wings...

?Under Section 9 of Republic Act 7941, it is not necessary that the party-list organization?s nominee ?wallow in poverty, destitution and infirmity? as there is no financial status required [by] the law,? he said.

Puno said: ?The evils that faced our marginalized and underrepresented people at the time of the framing of the 1987 Constitution still haunt them today?

?If we allow major political parties to participate in the party-list system electoral process, we will surely suffocate the voice of the marginalized, frustrate their sovereignty and betray the democratic spirit of the Constitution.?

Referring to Carpio?s position, Puno said the opinion which sees no evil in permitting major parties to join the party-list elections ?will serve as the graveyard of the party-list system.?

?There is an attempt to undo the democratic victory achieved by the marginalized in the political arena,? Puno said.

He, however, indicated he was squarely behind the new allocation formula.

Impact on Cha-cha

Speaker Prospero Nograles said the Supreme Court ruling adding 32 more lawmakers would put the House membership over the 250 seats set by the Constitution.

Nograles said he would ask the House?s legal department to study the ruling. ?That?s something we have to study legally,? Nograles told reporters.

Asked how the addition of new members would affect Charter change (Cha-cha) moves, which could require a three-fourths vote of the House, the Speaker said it would depend on the affiliation of the new representatives.

?I don?t know, it depends on who got elected. We have to find out if they?re from the majority or the minority. Whether they would join the majority coalition or the minority. It?s too early to tell because I don?t have the copy yet,? he said. With reports from Kristine L. Alave and Leila Salaverria

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