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Further amendments to charter needed, legislator says

MORE AMENDMENTS to the 1987 Constitution could still be needed beyond the economic measures certified as urgent by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, a senior legislator said.

In a message to BusinessWorld Sunday, House Committee on Constitutional Amendments Chairman Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr. said the amendments to the Public Service Act, Foreign Investment Act and Retail Trade Liberalization Act can only do so much to effect an economic recovery, even though they are expected to improve foreign direct investment (FDI).

“The passage of the bills, while definitely needed, can only do so much. A look into the restrictive provisions of the 1987 Constitution which have hampered the inflow of FDIs is also warranted. The investment-to-GDP ratio is still very low and FDI is one of the lowest in the region,” he said.

Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco filed Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 in January, proposing to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to economic restrictions in the Constitution.

The measure was approved at committee level on Feb. 2 and was brought to the plenary for debate. Mr. Garbin has said the House aims to pass the measure once Congress resumes session next month. Congress went on break starting March 27.

“With the contraction of our economy, we owe it to the Filipino people to enact all necessary legislation to improve and stimulate our economy including the timely lifting of restrictive provisions in the Constitution,” Mr. Garbin added.

Passage of the proposed economic provisions have been opposed by business groups questioning the timing of the proposals. Amending the Constitution will require a lengthy process of information campaigns and plebiscites.

Last week, the President certified Senate Bills 2094 (Public Service Act), 1156 (Foreign Investments Act) and1840 (Retail Trade Liberalization Act) as urgent, citing the need to boost economic growth and generate jobs. The House counterparts of these bills had been passed prior to the certification.

Research house IBON called the government’s priorities “misplaced,” adding that attention should be given to immediate assistance to millions affected by the lockdowns to contain the virus.

“(A) real stimulus package that prioritizes emergency cash subsidies, support for small businesses and farmers, and strengthening the health system should be top of lawmakers’ legislative priorities. This is more critical… than the bills lifting limits on full foreign ownership in certain economic sectors which the President recently certified as urgent,” IBON said in a statement.

IBON proposed that the government approve a P1.5-trillion package of social amelioration payments for poor and affected families, relief to distressed businesses, and address the needs of displaced workers.

A P370-billion economic relief package in the form of the proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One Act is currently backed by 224 members of Congress. Mr. Velasco has said that the target for approving the measure is before Congress resumes session. — Gillian M. Cortez

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