Senator Robinhood Padilla on Thursday said he would not curry favor from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. just to win presidential support for his advocacy on constitutional amendments.
Padilla, chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendment and Revision Codes, stressed that he wanted to maintain the independence of the legislature.
Meanwhile, Padilla’s counterpart at the House of Representatives, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriquez took exceptions to statements attributed to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri blaming the Lower House for alleged delay in the implementation of certain laws on account of the congressmen’s preoccupation with Charter change or Cha-cha.
Padilla said Cha-cha was not within the mandate of the President, adding it was the Filipino who would decide if they want to rewrite the Constitution.
During yesterday’s public hearing, Padilla criticize the government for welcoming American soldiers taking part at the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) exercise, but being strict on foreign investors.
Padilla said he and Sen. Ronald dela Rosa would not waver on their pro-Cha-cha for the national economic growth.
Thursday’s public hearing in Cebu was the third and final of such activity by Padilla’s committee on the Cha-cha issue.
The first hearing was held March 2 in Davao City followed by Baguio City last March 9.
Padilla said he will discuss the issue with their counterparts from the House of Representatives this coming week.
According to Padilla, his legal team will prepare the committee report, along with Energy Sec. Alfonso Cusi.
Padilla also set on Monday his committee’s hearing on the constitutional convention (Concon) being pushed by the House as a mode of amending the Constitution.
House members were invited to the Senate hearing to explain their side on the Concon issue which Padilla strongly opposed.
The senator has stood pat that constituent assembly is much cheaper and more practical than the constitutional assembly.
According to Padilla, he is duty-bound to pursue this despite criticism from some sectors – for the sake of giving Filipinos a better life in the long term.
In another development, Rodriguez cried foul over Zubiri’s remark that the delay in the enforcement of three laws may have been due to the House’s proposal to amend the economic provisions of the Charter.
“That’s foul, that’s pure speculation that has no basis at all. The House has no control over the executive agencies tasked to implement the three laws by issuing implementing rules and regulations (IRRs),” Rodriguez said.
“My beloved Senate president from Mindanao may be seeing ghosts where there are none. He should overcome his fear of the unknown. He should give us, his former colleagues in the House of Representatives, and executive officials some good faith,” he said.
He said Zubiri’s allegation “is unfair to House members, especially our Speaker Martin Romualdez, officials of the executive branch, which is led by no less than President Marcos Jr. to whom his underlings are ultimately answerable to him, and even to senators in favor of amending the Charter’s economic provisions,”
He added that it is the President who has administrative control over the agencies mandated to issue IRRs and implement the three laws Zubiri referred to.
In a television interview on Wednesday, Zubiri said the National Economic and Development Authority and other concerned agencies have yet to release IRRs to implement amendments to the Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Law and Foreign Investment Act more than a year after these were passed by the 18th Congress.
He said these laws were already sufficient to attain the goal of Charter amendment proponents of attracting more foreign investments into the country.
“Are they delaying [the approval of IRR] for some underlying reason? Why don’t they let the IRR go and let it out so that more direct foreign investments can come to the country?” he asked.
“These three [laws] were [passed] to answer the problems in the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution,” he added. “What else do we want to loosen up in the Constitution for economic reasons? Is it the ownership of land? Because personally, I am against the [full foreign] ownership of land,” he said.
He added that allowing foreigners to own land would only increase real estate prices in the country to the disadvantage of poor Filipinos.
Rodriguez reiterated that the House Charter amendment initiative is aimed at rewriting the basic law’s “restrictive” economic provisions so the country could entice more foreign investors.
“The restrictions that hamper investments are still there, because laws cannot amend the Constitution,” he said.
He said Zubiri and anti-Charter reform senators should give House members the benefit of the doubt on the latter’s economic reform objective.
“The best proof that we want the envisioned constitutional convention to limit itself to the economic provisions is the seven-month deadline for this assembly to finish its job,” he said.
Meanwhile, Quezon Rep. David Suarez urged the senators to keep an open mind on the proposed constitutional amendments being pushed at the Lower House.
Suarez said the resounding 301 “yes” votes that House Bill 7352 obtained from legislators in the lower chamber “speaks volumes.”
“I am appealing to our honorable senators to consider how HB 7352 passed its third and final reading with a resounding 301 votes. This is an overwhelming vote from the members of the House of Representatives,” the lawmaker from the second district of Quezon said.
“As duly elected officials representing all districts from Mindanao, Luzon and Visayas, our counterparts in the Senate should study their position and acknowledge the need to revise the economic provisions of our Constitution. I urge our senators to review HB 7352, calendar it for plenary debates and vote on it instead of immediately saying that it is not a priority,” Suarez added.
He said that while measures have been enacted in the past Congress relaxing restrictive provisions of the Charter, these have not been enough to encourage the entry of more foreign investments that the government needs to address the economic setbacks caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.
“We are all in agreement that most of our laws covering foreign investments are very restrictive and has kept our hands tied for decades. These restrictions prevent us from creating more jobs and getting investments from other countries,” Suarez said.
He added: “Senators should consider the gains that our country will get if our economy is opened up further. Data from numerous studies are undeniable. If we want to compete and be globally relevant, we need to unburden our country.”