Senate chief rallying support for ‘Cha-cha’

Senate chief rallying support for ‘Cha-cha’

By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

SENATE President Juan Miguel F. Zubiri is rallying support for a push to ease economic restrictions in the 1987 Constitution on the request of Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., he said on Monday.

Amending the Philippine Charter through a people’s initiative is “exploiting our democratic process,” he told a news briefing. “The President agreed with us that the proposal was too divisive and asked the Senate to instead take the lead in reviewing the economic provisions of the Constitution.”

“In this way, we can preserve our bicameral nature of legislation.”

The House of Representatives will then adopt the Senate’s proposed constitutional changes, Mr. Zubiri said, quoting Mr. Marcos.

Presidential Communications Office chief Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

Senators last year brushed off proposals to amend the Constitution, saying changes to several laws including the Public Service Act, which now allows 100% foreign ownership in telecommunications, airlines and railways, were enough.

“We, however, recognize that a case assailing the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 11659 is currently before the Supreme Court,” Mr. Zubiri said, adding that foreign investors are reluctant to enter the Philippines pending judgment on the case.

The Senate president said changes to the Constitution would be limited to easing  economic restrictions in public services, education and advertising.

Senate Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 seeks to insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in section 11 of article 12 and section 4 of article 14 of the Constitution regarding the operation of public utilities and basic educational institutions, respectively.

The phrase is also proposed to be included in section 11 under article 16 of the Charter regarding the operation of the advertising industry.

Land ownership in the Philippines is restricted to Filipino citizens and corporations that are at least 60% Filipino-owned. The Philippine Condominium Act allows foreigners to own units.

The resolution also proposed that changes to the Constitution be voted on separately by both chambers of Congress.

“The nation’s economic policy must be reframed under the demands of the increasingly globalized age, while still protecting the general policy of Filipino-first that guides the economic provisions of the Constitution,” according to a copy of the resolution.

Mr. Zubiri said Mr. Marcos is against foreign ownership of land, citing potential problems in the government’s housing program, as well as an increase in tax rates and land prices.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” M. Angara is tasked to lead the subcommittee on constitutional amendments.

Mr. Zubiri said Charter change (“Cha-cha”) deliberations in the Senate might be finished before the Holy Week break.

In a statement, Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez backed the Senate’s call to review the Constitution, “particularly in terms of relaxing economic provisions that currently restrict the entry of foreign direct investments.”

The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) also backed the plan to remove foreign equity restrictions in the Charter.

“Removing them from the Constitution will send the right signal to investors and provide the government flexibility to adjust policies as needed and to take advantage of economic opportunities,” Executive Director Ebb Hinchliffe said in a Viber message.

British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Executive Director Chris Nelson said easing the restrictions would enhance the country’s competitiveness as an investment hub.

“Anywhere you don’t have clarity obviously gives investors the opportunity to pause or wait for developments,” he said by telephone. “Where there is no clarity, that will cause some investors to hold back.”