Thursday, March 03, 2005

Del-Norte-Del-Sur virus

Del-Norte-Del-Sur virus

Posted 10:47pm (Mla time) Mar 02, 2005
By Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the March 03, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

IN CONGRESS, when the end of their term approaches, some legislators' fancies skid toward "chop-chop," street jargon for the 1812 tactic of splintering election districts and saving political hides.

In lieu of "chop-chop," political scientists use "gerrymandering" -- derived from Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry who redrew a salamander-like district to favor his party.

Our most visible "chop-chop" artists are three representatives whose terms are ending. They'd split Cebu, a province of 3.35 million people, jammed within 5,088 eroded square kilometers, into three. That opens for them governorships.

This virus has erupted also in Bukidnon, Surigao del Norte and Quezon. But congressmen who relish publicity duck whenever gerrymandering is raised.

Rep. Clavel Martinez zippers her lips on House Bill 3657. It'd spin off her district into "Cebu del Norte." Rep. Antonio Yapha swore he didn't file anything, until reporters trotted out his HB 3632 which would create an "Occidental Cebu." Rep. Filemon Kinatanar claimed he hadn't read HB 3733. "Makapal kasi." It's thick. But 12 of his 15 mayors thumbed down a "Cebu del Sur."

Reaction has been ballistic. If Cebu's four other districts were also "chop-chopped," religious leaders, businessmen and newspapers asked, would seven provincial capitols be wedged into one island? That'd need seven sets of officials, from governors, vice governors, provincial health officers, treasurers, assessors, agriculturists, prosecutors to superintendents, fire chiefs and janitors.

Europe, Asean and other bodies are moving toward integration, former Finance Secretary-and Cebuano-Jesus Estanislao pointed out.

A fragmented Cebu would resemble Siquijor, warned Cebu Daily News' Fernando Fajardo. In this one-district province, 69.5 percent of the 2003 budget go for salaries. Maintenance and operating expenses chew up the rest, noted Fajardo's column, "New provinces or new leeches?" Nothing is left for investment.

"How about a Cebu del Mar?" cracked Visayas Deputy Speaker Raul del Mar to cheer a glum congressional coffee clutch. Del Mar's solid track record makes his reelection sure. "No one laughed," he ruefully recalled. "Bad joke?"

Bukidnon has its "bad joke" in HB 3312. While Rep. Nereus Acosta was a world fellow at Yale University, Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri sneaked in an "Act Creating the Province of Bukidnon del Sur." Zubiri would lop off 10 from Bukidnon's 20 towns and two cities into a Del Sur dependency. Without a by-your-leave, Zubiri swept in Kalilangan and Pangantucan from Acosta's district.

"Why not a Bukidnon Oriental and Occidental?" a fuming Acosta told the Central Mindanao Newswatch. The far larger Pangasinan and Pampanga are not fragmenting. "This is sheer gerrymandering for political gain."

That's happening, too, on Dinagat Island, off Surigao del Norte. One policeman and 17 Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association members were killed during a gun battle with a joint police-military force that arrested "Supreme President" Ruben Ecleo Jr. for the murder of his wife Alona.

"Politics and religion combined into a potent, if not deadly, brew in the Ecleo family's fiefdom," writes Marites Daguilan-Vitug in the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism book "Faith, Hope and Politics." Today, the PBMA "boasts an even bigger and more fanatical following."

"An Act Creating the Province of Dinagat Island" (HB 884) gives local ayatollahs elbow room. Its author is Rep. Glenda Ecleo, mother of the "Supreme President" who is out on a million-peso bail. In Congress, one member scratches the back of others, so HB 884 has 42 co-authors, including Speaker Jose de Venecia.

HB 2862 would slice off a "Quezon del Sur" from the original province of 1.72 million people living in 40 towns and Lucena City. It would have 22 municipalities and Gumaca as capital.

The mother province would be renamed, what else? "Quezon del Norte." But all four Quezon congressmen-Proceso Alcala, Rafael Nantes, Danilo Suarez and Lorenzo Ta¤ada III-signed on.

Except for local differences, all bills are word-for-word copies of a legal form. If any part is declared unconstitutional, a clause decrees other provisions remain in effect.

Thus, few will bother with the US Supreme Court's recent 5-to-4 decision upholding boundaries of Pennsylvania districts amid charges of "unconstitutional political gerrymandering."

Redistricting was a political matter, Justices Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas held. That's beyond the court's purview. But courts must step in when the maps of political districts would put one party at an advantage over the other, Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer insisted.

But the court never explained what the standard was for fracturing the Constitution, The New York Times notes. "Since then, no challenge to partisan gerrymandering has ever been successful."

Here, the brawl will be over cash. Expenses for Quezon's mandatory plebiscite are to be charged against unexpended Comelec funds. The Bukidnon bill is silent. Does it assume the incumbent governor, Jose Ma. Zubiri, will pay for Junior?

Charge Surigao del Norte, Dinagat suggests. The Barbers there always murmured to PBMA leaders: "Thy will be done." But Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia snaps: "I'll veto any appropriation for such a foolish exercise in Cebu."

As the virus festers, former Gov. Emilio Osme¤a snorts: "If my grandfather [President Sergio Osmeña] were alive, he'd have asked: Na buang mo? Have you gone bonkers?"


Post a Comment

<< Home