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One-line ‘Cha-cha’ easier to pass, top Senate leader says

THE SENATE might push for a one-line amendment of the 1987 Constitution that will relax foreign ownership limits to increase its chances of being passed, its top leader said on Wednesday.

“If you’re talking about Charter amendments, it might take time,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told an online forum on Wednesday in mixed English and Filipino. “If you’re talking about a charter amendment, there’s a chance.”

Some lawmakers want to insert the line “as may be provided by law” in economic provisions of the Constitution that reserve 60% ownership of certain areas of investments to Filipinos. This will allow legislators to pass a measure that will increase the 40% limit on foreign investors.

Mr. Sotto earlier said they might also amend a clause on the party-list system, but he now wanted to file a bill instead.

“I will be drafting a bill that will amend the party-list law to make it clearer,” he said. “That way, we would no longer be subject to the interpretation of the Supreme Court or whoever.”

A plebiscite on Charter change (Cha-cha) could be held next year, Mr. Sotto said, dismissing fears that it may be used to extend the terms of incumbent officials.

Separate resolutions seeking to convene the House of Representatives and Senate as a constituent assembly to proposed changes to the Constitution have been filed.

Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco earlier said changing the Charter’s economic provisions was urgent amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Aurelio R. Montinola III, the newly appointed president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) said reopening the economy to more foreign investments would benefit the country.

“Freer trade has always been beneficial in general,” he told the ABS-CBN News Channel, adding that Filipino-owned businesses remain competitive.

Mr. Montinola said he would leave the debates about the wisdom of constitutional change to the experts.

“Our main task is to safely reopen the economy given the existing conditions,” Mr. Montinola said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Makati Business Club (MBC) has said changing the Constitution now would divide the nation. All major presidential and congressional candidates should instead commit to relax the limits in the basic law once they start their new terms.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) this week lawmakers to instead prioritize the passage of pending economic bills.

American and European business groups in the Philippines said they support Charter change to improve the country’s competitiveness in attracting foreign investors and spur an economic rebound.

Also on Wednesday, Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo said the Philippines should allow limited foreign ownership of land just like some of its neighbors.

The government should set conditions, including ensuring that foreigners use land for their operations and not for investment.

“If a foreigner owns land but does not use it in a specified period of time, the state can forfeit it,” she said in mixed English and Filipino at a House hearing on Charter change.

The Constitution limits land ownership to Filipino citizens. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Jenina P. Ibañez and Gillian M. Cortez

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