It is unfortunate that it took Rep. Daisy Avance-Fuentes (2nd District-South Cotabato) to amplify a bill separating General Santos City from the First Congressional District of South Cotabato.
For more than 20 straight years, the South Cotabato first district congressional seat was controlled by the Antoninos. First by Adelbert Antonino then his wife Lualhati before daughter Darlene served it out for three consecutive terms.
Their ally, Rep. Pedro ‘Jun’ Acharon Jr now occupies that position. It was Acharon who filed the bill reapportioning the first and second congressional districts of South Cotabato and separating General Santos City as a lone congressional district.
When the framers of the 1987 Constitutional apportioned the number of legislative districts, it set a minimum in the number of population (one congressional district for every 250,000 population). Little did they anticipate that General Santos City, whose population at that time was just a little over 180,000, will rise to become one of the highly urbanized cities in the Philippines.
Today, there are over 536,000 residents in General Santos City, well over the minimum. Based on the 2010 population census, it is now even entitled to two legislative districts.
I have been repeatedly putting forward this idea since relocating here in 1999. (In 1997, I was commissioned by former councilor Aristeo Albay to make a study for possibly re-districting Davao City into four congressional districts. That paper was submitted to then 2nd District Rep. Manuel ‘Nonoy’ Garcia who said it cannot be done without amending the Constitution.)
The latest incident where I had the opportunity to discuss this matter was with then Rep. Darlene Antonino who, in 2010, was then running for mayor.
I understand that it will take an amendment of the Constitution to re-apportion the congressional districts as it is incorporated in the transitory provisions. The law provides that no new district shall be created unless a new territory is created. Re-districting the city and South Cotabato will not result into the creation of a new province or city. But it has been done before without resulting into amending the Constitution.
Darlene Antonino-Custodio, now city mayor, however said it cannot be done without resorting to charter change which effect could lead to the opening of Pandora’s box.
Acharon was also not receptive to the idea when he was still a mayor.
The two were also lukewarm, if not dismissive, of dividing the city into two political and legislative district (east and west) with Silway River as its natural boundary, similar to nearby Sarangani whose two poltical districts is separated east and west by General Santos City (Sarangani, too, has a lone congressional district). This will enable the city to increase the number of seats in the city council which is long overdue.
Having only 12 elected councilors for a city of over half a million is a political anomaly. Residents here deserve at least 16 councilors – eight for each districts – for wider representation. It will also lessen the campaign cost for candidates for the city council as they will no longer campaign at large. And it can be done without even having to disturb the congressional districts. But if it can be done simultaneously, why not?
It may be too late to effect changes in the districting and representation at the city council but this could be a good platform for next year’s local elections.