Senate leaders have maintained that three new laws on the national economy should be implemented first before pushing amendments to the 1987 Constitution.
At the House of Representatives, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte challenged the senators to rally behind the Charter change (Cha-cha), saying the issue has gained a groundswell of support at the Lower House.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Majority Leader Joel Villanueva asserted that the new laws on the economy would entice foreign investors to come to the Philippines.
Proponents of the Cha-cha argued however, that amending the economic provisions of the Constitution will attract foreign investors to partake of the country’s growing economy.
Zubiri and Villanueva noted that the amended Public Services Act allows for 100-percent foreign ownership in the telecommunications, airlines, and railways industries.
They also cited the amended Retail Trade Liberalization Law which lowered the foreign investors’ initial capital to engaged in the retail business million from P125 million to only P25 million.
The third new law, the Foreign Investment Act, enables foreigners to own 100 percent of small and medium enterprises, Zubiri and Villanueva said.
They also said these laws were yet to be implemented due to the absence of implementing rules and regulations (IRR) which should come from the Executive department, particularly the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).
Zubiri also questioned the delay in the issuance of the IRRs “if indeed, we want the foreign investors’ entry into the country.”
He pointed out however, that he does not favor foreign ownership of land in the Philippines.
Villanueva also noted the benefits to be gained from the three laws, citing President Marcos’ state visits where he invited foreigners to invest in the Philippines.
With the overwhelming formal support at the Lower House for immediate constitutional reforms, Villafuerte said “the ball is now in the Senate’s court.”
Villafuerte was adverting to the bicameral Congress to help sustain the country’s outperforming economy’s post-COVID growth momentum by revisiting the economic provisions of the 1987 Charter.
“Given the super-majority vote in the House for both the resolution and its accompanying implementing on constitutional reform via the Con-Con (Constitutional Convention) route, the ball is now in the Senate’s court on whether to consider fixing in timely fashion the anachronistic economic provisions of the Constitution that have for long put a dampener on FDI inflows,” Villafuerte said.
“Our senators need to give this latest constitutional reform initiative a chance,” he said, “if only out of consideration for the passage in quick succession by the House of Representatives of the resolution establishing a Con-Con to propose economic amendments to the 1987 Charter and the accompanying bill on its operational details such as the composition of the would-be framers and the election of delegates to coincide with the Oct. 30 balloting for barangay and Sanggunian Kabataan officials.”
He was referring to the approval on third and final reading by 301, or almost 96 percent of the chamber’s 314 members last March 8 of Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 6 and by the same number of votes last March 14 of House Bill (HB) 7352, which is meant to be the implementing law for RHB 6. Villafuerte is president of the National Unity Party (NUP) deemed the second biggest power bloc in the House and whose 45 members all voted for RHB 6 and HB 7352.
HB 7352 had consolidated HB 4926, which was authored by Villafuerte, with three more similar bills introduced last year on Charter Change via the Con-Con option.
“We have done our part in the House with the nearly 96 percent vote for RHB 6 and HB 7352,” he said.
“It is now up to our senators to consider the Con-Con option in time for the selection of the elective delegates in a balloting to coincide with the polls for barangay and SK officials due on Oct. 30.”
The House-approved resolution and companion bill provide for a hybrid Con-Con with 251 members, comprising elective delegates at one delegate each for the country’s congressional districts, and appointive members to be chosen by the Senate President and Speaker to represent the judiciary, business, academe, farmers and fisherfolk, military, women and youth, senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs), and other basic sectors.
For Villafuerte, “a timely consideration of the Charter Change proposal now pending with the Senate committee on constitutional amendments will reveal to our people whether senators are indeed lukewarm about constitutional reform, as claimed by Senate President Migz (Juan Miguel Zubiri, or a majority of them actually share our conviction that FDI inflows will remain sluggish despite our country’s status as one of the region’s outperforming economies post-pandemic, for so long as we hold on to the constitutional limits on foreign ownership or participation in Philippine businesses.”
He said the timely consideration of the Con-Con proposal will give the Commission on Elections (Comelec) enough time to hold the election of delegates simultaneously with the barangay and SK polls on Oct. 3, and will on target with HB 7352’s plan for the would-be Con-Con to convene from Nov. 30, 2023 to June 30, 2024.
But in case the Charter Change proposal via the Con-Con route cannot indeed muster enough votes, “We in the House would respect such a decision by a majority of our senators and let this latest initiative on constitutional reform kick the bucket,” Villafuerte said.
“However, at this point, we are appealing to our senators to give serious thought to the timely plenary action on this latest
constitutional reform proposal designed to rid the 1987 Charter of its 405-cap on foreign ownership or participation in businesses that have turned off investors and restricted FDIs,” he said.