OFWs congressional district outside PHL? Why not?

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 OFWs congressional district outside PHL? Why not?


By BERTENI “TOTO” CATALUÑA CAUSING


                This article was sparked by an OFW who asked: “Can we create a legislative district for OFWs who are outside the country?”

                My answer is, “Yes, why not?”

                How can it be done when the Constitution impresses immediately that it limits congressional districts to be located within the territories of the Philippines?

                Simple. And there are two ways.


The pertinent Constitutional provisions

               
                But before revealing how, let me quote the pertinent provisions of the Constitution, under Section 5 of Article VI, which are as follows:

                “Section 5. (1) The House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than two hundred and fifty members, unless otherwise fixed by law, who shall be elected from legislative districts apportioned among the provinces, cities, and the Metropolitan Manila area in accordance with the number of their respective inhabitants, and on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio, and those who, as provided by law, shall be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.

“(2) The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.

“(3) Each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact, and adjacent territory. Each city with a population of at least two hundred fifty thousand, or each province, shall have at least one representative.”

                Provisions of sub-paragraphs 1 and 3 says clearly that the Constitution states that the House of Representatives should be composed of “not more than” 250, that each legislative district should comprise “as far as practicable” contiguous, compact and adjacent territory.


Legal means of creating congressional district outside PHL


                Do these provisions now close the door for OFWs legislative districts outside the Philippine territory?

                They do not.

                Examining sub-paragraph 1 says that it allows the Congress to make a law to have representatives from partylists and sectoral parties or organizations.

                This now opens the door for a group of OFWs in a region of another country, or in a foreign country, or in a group of countries or states outside the Philippines to be organized by a law into congressional districts without land territories.

                Examining again the whole of Section 5 shows that the only limitations stated are that the total number of the members of the House of Representatives shall not be more than 250 and that the total number of partylist representatives shall not be more than 20% of the total number that included the number of the partylist representatives.

                If we look at the provisions again, the Constitution does not specify the procedure on how partylist representatives shall be elected. 

What is more telling is that the Fundamental Law speaks of sectors and organizations so that it refers to sectors and organizations as different from partylist groups.

                In other words, the Congress can change the present procedure employed for electing partylist representatives and remove the 2% ceiling or whatever or design another system of how these representatives are to be chosen.

                It also means that the Congress can create organizations or sectors as distinct and separate from partylist groups.

It follows therefore that there is no offense to the Constitution if the Congress passes a law that creates a sectoral group or an organization out of a region of OFWs outside the country as one organization or one sector or one partylist group. 

Then, the law may design a procedure of electing a representative or a congressman from their group by means of electing at large from them their own representatives. 

Thus, we see clearly the Congress can create a legislative district outside the Philippine territory.

Of course, the law may provide for the abolition or dissolution of that sector or group or partylist group when the number of voters no longer reaches the minimum for one congressional district classified as a sector or a group or a partylist.

                Another Constitutional way of creating a congressional district outside the Philippine territory is by invoking the “unless otherwise fixed by law” clause in sub-paragraph 1 of Section 5 of Article VI of the Constitution.

                The exception phrase applies not only to the number of total representatives, 250, that may be changed.  This exception clause can also apply to all other provisions that the Congress may want to change by means of a law.

                And if it can apply to any provision of Section 5, then the Congress can fix a congressional district even without the land territory that should be compact, contiguous and adjacent.

                Supporting this legal argument is another clause that says, “as far as practicable.”  This means that if it is not practicable to have a land territory, then the Congress is authorized by the Constitution to create a congressional district outside the Philippines.


Reasons for necessity of congressional districts outside PHL

                The first justification is that all—not only the Filipino voters inside the country—have the right of suffrage, or the right to vote and be voted upon.

                If that is so, it a discrimination of a class of Filipinos to deprive them of the right to vote for their congressmen other than partylist congressmen when they are also Filipinos.

There is no valid justification to look down on the Filipinos outside the country just because of their geographical locations outside the country.  There is no law says that a voter becomes an inch-less of a voter if he or she is outside the country or outside of his or her congressional district when he or she were at home.

This is so because the laws that the Congress makes affect the overseas Filipinos as much as or as the same as Filipinos in the home front.

Further, In the old times, these overseas Filipinos (OFs) were handicapped by the reality of physical impossibility to go home and vote.  But with the internet voting that is now being pushed by the Commission on Elections to be done in the 2013 election, there is no more impossibility standing in the way in so far as the physical capability of all voters to vote.

Also, it is a persona non grata of the Filipinos at home to outcast their OFs or OFWs who have been toiling out there just so the relatives back home can eat and live a good life.

It is also a big ingrate for the country to deny rights of suffrage from the people it calls “living heroes” who are keeping the dollar strength of the State.

Since it is unreasonable or revolting to conscience to deprive the OFs of the right to vote for their congressional district and sectoral or partylist or organization representatives, they must now be allowed to have their own district outside the country and would still be allowed to vote for the partylist of their choice.

Further, by creating a sectoral congressional district outside PHL, it ensures against “pseudo” congressmen like Mikey Arroyo circumventing around the law to become a representative of tricycle drivers and security guards, one of whom he even failed to protect against a fellow congressman, who is from Lanao del Sur.

It assures that persons who truly are from their sectors are elected.

As long as other qualifications that one must be at least 25 years old and a natural-born citizen, there is no reason to deny a representative each from the Sector Congressional Districts of California Filipinos, Jeddah Filipinos, Hong Kong Filipinos, UK Filipinos and others.
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