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House body endorses Charter ownership easing

A HOUSE of Representatives committee on Tuesday adopted a resolution allowing Congress to lift restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, supposedly to help the Philippine economy recover amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Voting 64 to three with three abstentions, the House committee on constitutional amendments agreed to insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in parts of the Charter that limit foreign ownership in certain Philippine industries, according to a statement posted on the House website.

This will allow Congress to pass a law later relaxing ownership limits.

Lawmakers agreed not to touch a section of the basic law that bars foreigners from owning land, the House said.

The changes will be made under three articles on the national patrimony and economy; education, science and technology; and general provisions, for a total of seven changes.

Party-list Rep Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr., who heads the committee, told reporters in a Viber group message he would sponsor the Charter change proposal in plenary as early as next week.

The voting coincided with the 34th anniversary of the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, which he described as a “living Constitution” that is “far from being perfect.”

“When the people ratified the 1987 Constitution containing limitations on foreign ownership and participation in certain economic activities, it was their desire at that time to make the limitations specific,” he said in the statement. “However, the Constitution is not unchangeable.”

“It is about time we correct this unintended anomaly by introducing an amendment that gives the Legislature the freedom to amend those time-bound laws that have been enshrined in the Constitution to the detriment of the common good of the Filipinos now and in the future,” Mr. Garbin said.

Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco, who authored the resolution, wants to liberalize the economic restrictions in the Charter and let Congress enact laws that will free up the economy to foreign investors.

Mr. Velasco said foreign investment plays a crucial role in the Philippine economy by supporting domestic jobs and creating 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 in the statement.

Mr. Velasco’s resolution was backed by all major political parties and power blocs in the House, according to the House statement.

‘HIGHEST BIDDER’
Lawmakers who voted no said Charter change was “ill-timed” and would affect Filipino businesses.

“If Charter change pushes through now, foreigners would have a heyday and gobble up wholesale of what is left in our already much liberalized economy,” Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said in a statement.

“Our national patrimony would  be put on sale to the highest foreign bidder at the further expense of our local industries,” he added.

Lifting foreign investment restrictions could improve foreign direct investment inflows (FDI), particularly in restricted sectors, the House said, citing some economists.

Easing the restrictions could lead to an additional average annual FDI of P330 billion pesos ($6.8 billion) and generate 6.6 million jobs over 10 years, it added, citing Bicol Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda.

Party-list Rep. Michael Edgar Y. Aglipay, one of the House leaders involved in the preparation for “Cha-cha” hearings, earlier said lawmakers would not try to change political provisions of the Constitution.

He said they wanted to form a constituent assembly by the end of the month. A plebiscite for proposed changes could coincide with the presidential elections in May 2022, he added.

Opposition senators last month thumbed down the fresh Charter change push at the House, saying it was likely to fail and waste lawmakers’ time.

Senator Franklin M. Drilon said Charter change has a zero chance of success in any administration that is already in the home stretch. President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s six-year term will end next year. He is barred by law from running for reelection.

Senator Francis N. Pangilinan, who heads the committee on constitutional amendments, had also questioned the timing of the Charter change push.

Harry L. Roque, Mr. Duterte’s spokesman, has said Charter change is the last thing on the President’s mind, adding that Mr. Duterte would rather focus on battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III earlier said Charter amendments would have a better chance of hurdling the chamber if these are limited to changing the party-list system and easing economic restrictions. — Norman P. Aquino and Gillian M. Cortez

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