This early, a heated discussion has been sparked by the call in the House of Representatives to get on with the amendments to the restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution.
The economic clauses have long been identified as a hurdle for investments, since foreign companies can’t pursue plans in the country in strategic industries, such as in the field of information technology where capital is crucial.
Among the sections of the Constitution that are found restrictive are those which limit foreign ownership of land and shares in natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, media and advertising.
On Tuesday, representatives of political parties and power blocs in the House met to tackle Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s resolution pressing forward with discussions for Charter change (Cha-cha).
The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments had also started hearings on Resolution of Both Houses 2 on Cha-cha.
The proposed resolution filed at the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments sought to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to Sections 2, 3, 7, 10 and 11 of Article XII (National Patrimony and Economy), Section 4 of Article XIV (Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports) and Section 11 of Article XVI (General Provisions) that would make the constitutional limitations flexible and would allow Congress to enact laws to free up the economy to foreign investors.
Also proposed to be amended are Articles 12, 14 and 16 to lift the 40 percent foreign ownership restrictions on lands, public utilities, educational institutions and mass media corporations.
The resolution will need a vote of three-fourths of all its members, the Senate and the House of Representatives voting separately, which would mean a tedious process that may not be possible to complete with the two years left in President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.
To push the Cha-cha agenda, an administration, which is trusted by the people or that having a strong mandate, should be in place.
Previous Cha-cha efforts failed due to the lack of confidence in the leadership, since opening the Constitution for any amendment lays the ground open for opportunistic revisions, such as term extension.
Despite assurances that only economic provisions will be subject for review, suspicions were raised on the real intent of the earlier Cha-cha proponents.
Captains of industry, such as Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico, are worried the insertion of a clause that gives Congress the power to adjust provisions in the Charter might weaken it and open the floodgates for future administrations to introduce such provisos.
“Inserting the provision ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ in sections of the Constitution that limit foreign equity to 40 percent in business ventures that are considered of critical interest to the Filipino people could potentially weaken the country’s highest law by making it easier for ordinary legislation to amend the Constitution,” Yujuico explained.
Yujuico said Congress can craft other laws that go around the limiting provisions without the need to tinker with the Constitution.
According to the head of the biggest trade group of the country, the remaining period of the Duterte administration would be better spent in completing the reform agenda such as the enactment of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act, the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) Act and other measures under the last phase of the comprehensive tax reform program.
Both sides have raised good points which would be put before the Filipino people to decide possibly through a referendum.
The government’s primary role is to provide the means for an informed citizenry.