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Senators reject House plan to lift Charter’s foreign ownership cap 

By Bianca Angelica D. Añago

SENATORS on Thursday said the chamber was unlikely to prioritize the approval of a resolution seeking to  ease foreign ownership limits in the 1987 Constitution.

The Senate does not have time to discuss Charter change (Cha-cha) because Congress is set to adjourn on June 4, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters in a Viber group message.

“I don’t think we have enough time as it is to take a quick look at the proposal,” he said. “We have five days to go before the sine die adjournment.”

The House of Representatives on Wednesday night approved on second reading the resolution seeking to change the three decade Constitution.

Congressmen will amend Charter by inserting  the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in clauses that limit foreign ownership in some sectors.

This will give lawmakers the leeway to pass laws that will lift the Charter change limits.

Senator Franklin M. Drilon told reporters on Thursday senators were not inclined to support changes to the 1987 Constitution. “It was not even in the agenda of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council meeting yesterday, which means it is not a priority legislation,” he said.

Mr. Drilon said three economic bills that the presidential palace had certified as urgent were sufficient “to liberalize our investment climate without amending the Constitution.”

“The Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises bill, which provides incentives for foreign direct investments, is now a law,” he added.

“There’s no urgency for it and there’s no need to amend eco(nomic) provisions,” Senator Ralph G. Recto he said in a mobile message.

In a statement, Senator Mary Grace Natividad S. Poe-Llamanzares said “an economic ‘Cha-cha’ would probably deserve less attention given that we already have other foreign investment measures that are certified as urgent.” 

The Senate has passed the bill amending the Retail Trade Liberalization Act on third reading, while the bills seeking to change the Public Service Act and Foreign Investments Act are pending second reading approval.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the entry of foreign investors “should be driven by the extent to which they support our ambitions.”

“Following the Constitution, we should be clear about what we deem to be our national patrimony and how we should use it for the long term,” she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines said the House approval was a positive signal that the Legislature favors easing the limits even as it noted that the move could take time.

“The House has chosen a slower route than a repeal of the restrictions,” John Forbes, the chamber’s senior adviser said in a mobile phone message.

“New foreign direct investments in these sectors will be delayed until Congress passes relevant laws,” he said.

Mr. Forbes said the Philippines was missing out because competing countries were getting significant foreign direct investments in areas such as education, advertising and public services.

Ruben J. Pascual, secretary general of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said it favors the proposed charter change provisions, but “we do not agree with the timing as elections are just around the corner and politicians will tinker with the Constitution for their personal interests.”

PCCI in January said inserting the clause could weaken the Constitution by making it easy to amend using ordinary legislation.

The group said liberalizing economic provisions of the Constitution should be done carefully to “withstand various economic interests but especially the test of time.” with Jenina P. Ibañez

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