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Speaker: No to no-el despite Cha-cha move

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco emphasized the amendments would not affect the presidential election as he dispelled concerns that there would be no election in 2022 since the proposed Charter changes supposedly could cover political provisions and include term extension of incumbent officials.
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) – January 13, 2021 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The 2022 national elections will proceed despite the move in Congress to amend the 1987 Constitution, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco vowed yesterday.

Velasco emphasized the amendments would not affect the presidential election as he dispelled concerns that there would be no election in 2022 since the proposed Charter changes (Cha-cha) supposedly could cover political provisions and include term extension of incumbent officials.

The Marinduque congressman, who initiated the amendments of restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution through his Resolution of Both Houses 2 (RBH 2), bared that they are targeting to hold the plebiscite for the people’s ratification of the amendments simultaneously with the May 2022 polls.

“We hope to finish the debates before the end of 2021 and present it to the public for ratification alongside the election of new leaders in the 2022 national elections,” he said in a statement.

Velasco, who led a caucus of the supermajority coalition yesterday in preparation for resumption of sessions next week, also committed that the proposed amendments will not be rushed by Congress as the debate will be “transparent and fair.”

House constitutional amendments chairman Alfredo Garbin Jr. confirmed that the Speaker has specifically instructed their panel to ensure public participation in the deliberations on RBH 2.

“The active participation of Filipino people is very important. The Speaker told us that we need to develop public trust and public confidence by encouraging public participation in the discussion and in the public debate,” Garbin said in an interview with House reporters through Zoom.

“Because at the end of the day, they are the true owners of the Constitution and will be the one who will ratify it. We have to make them understand that our purpose is really the national interest and for the benefit of our people,” he added.

The AKO Bicol party-list representative explained that the passage of the proposed amendments would depend on the length of debates at the House, especially before the plenary.

“Under the Constitution, it requires a more stringent vote since we are exercising our constituent powers, sitting as a constituent assembly. It requires three-fourth votes of all members of Congress voting separately when we approve the proposed amendments,” he said.

“After the approval by the plenary and if there’s no difference between our version and the Senate’s, then we can come up with a law that will set it for plebiscite already,” he added.

Garbin’s panel is set to reopen the deliberations on Cha-cha and tackle the RBH 2 at a hearing set today.

Velasco reiterated the need for such amendments to boost economic recovery from the pandemic.

“Foreign investment plays a crucial role in the Philippine economy by supporting domestic jobs and the creation of physical and knowledge capital across a range of industries. The need to attract foreign capital is critical to support our economy’s recovery from COVID-19,” he said.

Support from House leaders

Meanwhile, more House leaders have expressed support for the proposed economic amendments to the Constitution.

Deputy Speaker Benny Abante and social services committee chairman Alfred Vargas agreed with Velasco that the economic provisions are too restrictive and have been preventing entry of foreign investments.

Abante appealed to the public to keep an open mind on the proposal, saying Velasco made it clear that it would focus on its economic provisions.

The Manila 6th District representative cited the need for such amendment “given the pressing need to find ways to boost our COVID-ravaged economy, we should be willing to explore any and all options available to us.”

“Surveys show that it is indisputable that jobs, livelihoods and family incomes have taken a big hit because of pandemic-related restrictions. If there is something we can do to address these concerns, we should take a close look at it,” he said in a statement.

For his part, Vargas explained that foreign investments will be needed to sustain the country’s pandemic recovery efforts.

“We need to address the provisions that restrict foreign investment in our country. The bottomline is, close to 11 million Filipinos have lost their jobs. We have limited resources, and we cannot continue to rely on foreign debt to tide us over. Foreign investments will be crucial in our recovery,” the Quezon City 5th District representative said.

“Removing the restrictive economic provisions is only one aspect. There are various other areas that need improvement if we are to become a preferred destination for foreign investment,” he added.

Political parties, power blocs

Leaders of political parties and House power blocs have also expressed support for the proposed Cha-cha.

In a caucus yesterday afternoon, they crossed party lines and came up with a “consensus” to support RBH 2, according to Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera.

“There is a strong and united consensus among political leaders at the House to back Speaker Velasco’s initiative toward liberalizing the economic provisions in the Constitution,” the Bagong Henerasyon party-list representative said after attending the closed door meeting.

Leaders and representatives of PDP-Laban, Nacionalist People’s Coalition, Nacionalista Party, National Unity Party, Lakas-NUCD, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, Liberal Party and Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. attended the caucus held a day before the House resumes hearing on proposed amendments in the Constitution.

Several lawmakers were physically present at the meeting, while others joined by teleconference.

Kristine Singson-Meehan (Ilocos Sur, 2nd District) cited that the pandemic highlighted the country’s limited inflow of funds because of the economic restrictions stated within the Constitution.

She pointed out that among Asian countries, the Philippines had the lowest foreign direct investments (FDIs) in 2020.

“The pandemic hit economies around the world, but we were among those whose economy suffered greatly as we struggled with inflow of funds,” she said.

The country’s FDI inflows have been on a decline since 2019. FDIs from January to November that year amounted to $6.4 billion, 30 percent lower than the $9.2 billion recorded in the same period in 2018.

Total foreign investments approved in the third quarter of 2020 amounted to only P31 billion, which is 83 percent lower than in the same period in 2019, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Article XII, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution states that no franchise of a public utility shall be granted except to citizens of the Philippines, or at least 60 percent of capital is owned by Filipinos.

More than enough reason

Three decades of keeping monopolies and oligopolies in local industries should be more than enough reason to finally change the prohibitive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution where Asian neighbors have been outsmarting the country, according to House’s resident economists.

“The restrictions have long held us back from pursuing the same kind of aggressive national development that our neighbors such as Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia have pursued,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said.

“At this rate, with our self-imposed restrictions, Myanmar and Cambodia will leapfrog us if we continue to tie our own hands,” the chairman of the House ways and means committee added.

For Stella Quimbo (Marikina City, 2nd District), the Philippines has been notably lagging behind its neighbors in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that do not have economic prohibitions in their charter.

The deputy minority leader cited as basis the FDI Regulatory Restrictiveness Index of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which showed that Manila has “the most restrictive regime for foreign investments in the ASEAN.”

For Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez, who used to head the House committee on constitutional amendments, amending the economic provisions in the fundamental law of the land will “open up more foreign investments.”

“This will greatly help the country. And I really believe this can help the government recover from the crisis. Anyway, there will be no political amendments. And these economic provisions are not controversial. This is very doable,” he added.

DOF chief backs economic Cha-cha

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has expressed his support for proposals to amend economic provisions in the Constitution to boost the country’s competitiveness.

“I am really for opening up our economy in all areas possible with the exception of land ownership,” Dominguez said during a virtual meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines when asked if he supports the proposed Cha-cha.

“The issue of land ownership is so emotional and any mention of that will stop the whole program. So let’s do something doable, let’s open up the economy,” he added.

In particular, the finance chief said sectors such as retail, trade and construction should be opened up to foreign investors.

Dominguez said liberalizing trade, for one, had economic benefits as shown by the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law.

“We just got the figures on the effects of the Rice Tarrification Law on rice production. You know rice production actually went up. It’s been the highest it’s ever been,” he added.

The proceeds from rice tariffs, which made up the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, helped farmers improve their yields, according to the finance chief.

“This is another proof that actually, economic theory works. You know, opening up the economy challenges the local production and actually they respond positively, if there is good support,” he said.

Moreover, he said the price of rice had declined by about 20 percent.

“So this is why I say we should look at the Constitution and open as much as possible,” Dominguez said. – Delon Porcalla, Mary Grace Padin