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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

THREE members of the House of Representatives from Western Visayas are among the 10 richest lawmakers in the country.

 

Based on his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net (SALN) Worth, Negros Occidental Representative Julio Ledesma IV is the 3rd richest congressman in the country with P571.979 million in assets, and P124.450 million in liabilities.

 

Iloilo 2nd district Rep. Judy Jalbuena-Syjuco is the 5th richest House member with P278.018 million in assets and P12.5 million in liabilities.

 

Iloilo 4th district Rep. Ferjenel Biron has P191.3 million assets with no liabilities, earning him the 7th spot in the list of richest House members.

 

Las Piñas Representative Cynthia Villar, wife of former Senate president Manuel Villar, retained the title as the richest and only billionaire member of the House with P1.046 billion in assets and no liabilities.

 

Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez (Leyte, 1st district), a banker and lawyer, is the second richest with P477.205 million in assets, sans liabilities.

 

San Jose del Monte Rep. Arturo Robes, a businessman, is in 4th place with P474.173 million in assets and P33.004 million in liabilities.

 

The 5th richest House member is Tarlac Rep. Monica Prieto-Teodoro, wife of Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro with P249.427 million in assets and P17 million liabilities; while Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is in 8th place with P179.980 million assets with no liabilities.

 

Rep. Edgar San Luis of Laguna is in 9th place with P165.097 million assets sans liabilities; Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. is on 10th place with P162.472 million in assets with P983,480 liabilities.

 

Rep. Ignacio Arroyo of Negros Occidental, the brother of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s sons, Juan Miguel Arroyo of Pampanga and Diosdado Arroyo of Camarines Sur, are among the top 30 richest House members.

 

The Arroyos trace their roots to Iloilo and Negros Occidental.

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By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

THE recent decision of the Supreme Court (SC) expanding the seats for party list groups technically allowed moves to increase the membership of the House of Representatives despite the 250-seat cap stipulated in the 1986 Constitution.

 

This is the personal view of Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr. when asked about the implication of the SC ruling on his bid to add another congressional district in the city.

 

Gonzalez said the SC ruling prompted Senate president Juan Ponce-Enrile to withdraw his bill seeking to increase the House membership by 100 seats.

 

Gonzalez also filed a similar bill to expand the House membership to pave the way for the redistricting of some areas in the country, particularly Iloilo City.

 

In a press briefing in Manila, Enrile said there would be no need for a law increasing the number of members of the House of Representatives as the recent SC decision has already clarified the matter by issuing a new computation.

 

Enrile said the SC decision stated that the “formula referring to the ratio of party-list representatives to the total number of representatives allows for the corresponding increase in the number of seats available for party-list representatives whenever a legislative district is created by law.”

 

Enrile said, in effect, the Supreme Court decision has ruled that the enactment by Congress of laws creating legislative districts operates in itself to increase the number of seats in the House and that there is no need for the enactment of a general law increasing the number of seats beyond the 250 seats originally prescribed by the Constitution.

 

Gonzalez said the move to increase House membership was meant to accommodate some senators who raised concerns that they will violate the constitutional cap if they pass individual redistricting bills pending in Congress.

 

“But with the recent Supreme Court decision to add more 32 party list (solos), there is no more reason for some senators to be concerned or delay the individual redistricting bills. The SC already showed them that we can expand the House membership,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview.

 

The Supreme Court added 32 more party list seats in the House after ordering the Commission on Elections to follow a new formula for allotting party-list seats.

 

The SC said the number of seats available to party-list representatives will be computed from the number of legislative districts.

 

According to the court, there are 220 district representatives and 55 seats available for party-list representatives. Fifty-five is 20 percent of 220.

 

“Because of the SC decision, there is no need to muddle or delay the process. The ball is with the Senate ever since,” Gonzalez said.

 

Gonzalez’s bill seeks to regroup all barangays in the Jaro, LaPaz, Lapuz and Mandurriao as the first congressional district, while all barangays comprising City Proper, Molo and Arevalo shall compose the second congressional district.

 

The redistricting of Iloilo City is seen to benefit the metropolis because of double pork barrel allocation.

 

But political observers said the move is meant to avoid a confrontation between the Gonzalezes and Mayor Jerry Treñas in the 2010 congressional race.

 

Treñas is serving his last three-year term until next year.

 

Oppositors to the redistricting bill said Iloilo City is not qualified for another congressional district because its population is less than 500,000. The Constitution stipulates that a congressional district must have at least 250,000 population.

 

Additional seats in the House will also mean additional expenditures for the government.

 

But Gonzalez said his bill has satisfied all the requirements, especially the population count based on a precedent case in Makati City, Mariano vs Commission on Elections, which was decided by the SC on March 7, 1995.

 

The ruling penned by then Justice Renato Puno and concurred by then Chief Justice Hilario Davide said the legislative district of a city or province can be increased if it has met the minimum population requirement of 250,000.

 

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

THE House of Representatives will be compelled to pass a P2.5-billion supplemental budget for the 32 additional party list representatives.

 

House majority floor leader Arthur Defensor Sr. said the salaries, allowances and pork barrels of the additional party list representatives were not included in the 2009 national budget.

 

The Supreme Court the other day added 32 more party list seats in the House after ordering the Commission on Elections to follow a new formula for allotting party-list seats.

 

Under the 2009 national budget, the House allocated P3.9 billion in operating funds.

 

Since each congressional 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 around P70 million in pork barrel funds per year, for a total of P2.24 billion.

 

Defensor said the SC decision will also result in space problems for the House.

 

“We have to look for additional office spaces for the new representatives. We have no more vacant space in the plenary hall at the Batasan Complex. The South Wing expansion is still under construction,” Defensor said.

 

The P700-million expansion project which includes a four-storey building will be completed next year.

 

The SC decision also spawned legal questions since the 1986 Constitution only provides 250 seats for the House, Defensor said.

 

Accommodating 32 new seats would bring the total number of House members to 270 aside from the creation of 192 additional co-terminus positions.

 

Defensor said they don’t expect the SC to reverse its ruling on the allocation of party-list seats thus “we should be ready that the House membership will increase.”

 

The House membership is expected to further swell after the Committee on Revision of Laws approved Wednesday morning a bill seeking to create 50 new congressional districts and increase the constitutional ceiling to 300 seats.

 

The bill was filed by Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr. who is pushing for the creation of another congressional district in the city.

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

SOME congressmen don’t like the idea of adding 100 more seats in the House of Representatives in this era of the global financial crisis.

 

Atty. Dan Cartagena, who has been opposing the bid to create a second congressional district in Iloilo City, said he was able to talk to Rep. Jeanette Garin (1st district, Iloilo) who said she does not support the increase in House membership.

 

The proposal to increase House membership by 100 seats came to fore after the Senate committee on local government chaired by Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III did not act on several redistricting bills from the House.

 

The proposed redistricting of Iloilo City was filed by lone district Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr.

 

Senator Juan Ponce-Enrile then told the House leadership to file a measure to increase the number of seats in the House in order to accommodate the redistricting bills.

 

“It appears that not all representatives agree with the measure because of the economic crisis. We will be spending more than P10 billion just for the additional seats in the House. That money could be used to create jobs,” Cartagena said.

 

The plan to divide the city into two congressional districts is believed to be a ploy to avert a showdown between Gonzalez and Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas over the lone congressional district.

 

Treñas is serving his last three-year term as mayor.

 

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

 

THE national redistricting bill pending before Congress might save efforts to create the second congressional district of Iloilo City, according to Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr.

 

Gonzalez said Senate president Juan Ponce-Enrile vowed to approve within 10 days the national redistricting bill once it passes the House of Representatives.

 

The national redistricting bill, which seeks to increase the number of congressmen from 238 to 300, stemmed from the rash of redistricting bills passed by the House and now pending with the Senate.

 

Gonzalez said the national redistricting bill is the answer to the dispute within Senate committee on local government after Senators Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, who chairs the committee, and Joker Arroyo on how to deal with individual redistricting measures.

 

Aquino said redistricting should not be implemented in Iloilo City only, reason why he supports a national redistricting measure.

 

The dispute prompted Enrile to order Aquino to freeze actions on the redistricting bills until the matter is settled.

 

Upon Enrile’s suggestion, Sec. Gonzalez said his son, Iloilo City Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr., filed his version of the national redistricting bill which was later adopted by the House.

 

“Nag-imbitar sa akon si Enrile. Nagsuggest siya, para madula na di ang ginamo sa Senate, tell your son to file a new bill not only for Iloilo City but for the whole country,” Gonzalez said over Bombo Radyo.

 

The new redistricting bill proposed to increase the House membership to 300 although Enrile pushed for 350 total seats.

 

Rep. Gonzalez filed a bill with the House last year to create the second congressional district of Iloilo City citing the need for another representative and pork barrel for burgeoning metropolis.

 

Rep. Gonzalez’s bill coasted through the House but it hit a snag in the Senate.

 

The bill has been questioned because Iloilo City’s population as of last year is only 400,000. The 1986 Constitution mandates that a congressional district must have at least 250,000 population.

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