House panel Oks Cha-cha resolution

House panel Oks Cha-cha resolution Featured

The joint resolution that seeks to amend certain “restrictive” provisions in the 1987 Constitution was adopted by the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday.

Resolution of Both Houses 2 (RBH 2), introduced by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, got the vote of 64 members of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments. Three lawmakers voted against it, while three abstained.

RBH 2 amends Articles 12, 14 and 16 to ease restrictions in the foreign ownership and management of lands of public domain, public utilities, educational institutions, and mass media companies. Inserting the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in certain provisions in the Constitution would allow Congress to enact laws lifting prohibitions on foreign entities.

The committee excluded the original proposal to ease restrictions in the foreign ownership of private lands under Section 7, Article 7 of the Constitution.

The panel conducted three hearings and listened to resource persons from the legal, economic and business sectors.

Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., chairman of the constitutional amendments panel, said he expects RBH 2 to be tackled in the plenary in the second or third week of February.

The approval of the resolution coincided with the 34th anniversary of the ratification of the 1987 Constitution.

In filing RBH 2, Velasco sought to liberalize the restrictive economic provisions to open up the country to foreign investors and to attract foreign capital that is “critical” to support recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente “Joey” Salceda, chairman of the ways and means committee, projected that the passage of RBH 2 might lead to an additional average annual foreign direct investments of P330 billion and could generate 6.6 million jobs over a 10-year period.

Garbin said it was wise for Congress to amend the Constitution by adding the phrase “unless otherwise specified by law.”

This, he said, gives the government “flexibility to consider different circumstances prevailing at different stages of our road to economic development before formulating policies that should be time bound.”

“When the people ratify the proposal to amend the Constitution to insert the phrase ‘unless otherwise provided by law,’ the people will be expressing their desire to make the limitations on foreign ownership and participation less rigid and will be choosing to delegate to Congress the determination of what the appropriate limitations should be. It would be an acknowledgment that, in these particular instances, the specific limitations are no longer wise, and that there is a need for quick, decisive but deliberative action,” Garbin explained.

During the hearing on Tuesday, former 1986 Constitutional Convention member and retired Supreme Court justice Adolfo Azcuna said that when he first proposed the idea of amending the Constitution to then House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, “the whole idea is to render changeable by legislation those restrictive economic provisions in our Constitution.”
Azcuna said these include “specific details, as distinguished from bedrock principles, which should not be changed by legislation.”

“The details can be changed by legislation — and should be changed by legislation — since they are not meant to last for a long time,” he said.

Highlighting the importance of reviewing the economic provisions amid the effects of the pandemic, Azcuna said the “economic policy should be flexible; it should not be written in stone.”

Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, one of the lawmakers who voted against RBH 2, said charter change, or Cha-cha, would not solve the economic crisis.

“If Cha-cha pushes through now then foreigners would have a heyday and gobbling up wholesale of what is left in our already much liberalized economy. Our national patrimony would be put on sale to the highest foreign bidder at the further expense of our local industry.”

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