04 July 2007

It’s census time next month

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

FOR THE whole month of August 2007, expect a visit from the National Statistics Office (NSO) in connection with the 2007 Census of Population that it will conduct all over the country.

Last Tuesday, the Naga City Census Coordinating Board met to discuss preparations for this population count, which will cover all residents, both Filipinos and foreigners who have stayed or are expected to stay for at least a year in the Philippines. About 80 NSO enumerators -- your friendly NSO census taker -- will be fielded in Naga for this month-long activity.

It should have taken place in 2005 but did not -- mainly for budgetary reasons and of course the impeachment battles triggered by the infamous Hello Garci tapes. When it was again postponed last year, Camarines Sur NSO provincial officer Eliza Solares told us, they were no longer expecting another census to take place, considering its nearness to 2010. But early this year, the national government had a change of heart.

By law, a national census must be taken every 10 years since 1980, in addition to other special counts mandated by the National Statistical Coordination Board. The last one held was in 2000, covering both population and housing counts.

Why are censuses held? A primer of the NSO says the information they yield will help government in formulating policies and preparing plans and programs concerning population, education, fertility, labor and housing. They will also be useful to business and industry in their decision making, and to academic institutions in their research.

One compelling reason, however, as to why a census suddenly materialized this year is political. This can be inferred from the following portion of a previous NSO primer:

Question: “What are the basic uses of official population statistics?”

Answer: “Aside from its use in plan formulation and program evaluation of the government, population statistics serve as basis for the redistricting and apportionment of congressional seats; allocation of resources and revenues like the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA); and creation of political and administrative units.”

The 1987 Constitution provides for a Lower House comprising of not more than 250 representatives elected by legislative districts. According to Wikipedia, there are only 212 legislative districts at present, leaving a balance of 38.

Additionally, it lays down the requirements and process for creating new districts. Section 5(3) of Article VI provides that “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.”

Section 5(4) is where the 2007 Census comes in: “Within three years following the return of every census, the Congress shall make a reapportionment of legislative districts based on the standards provided in this section.”

By my count, Camarines Sur alone stands to gain at least two additional districts if redistricting pushes through. Assuming, of course, the 1987 Constitution survives another assault by forces committed to charter change.