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House urged to back 3 bills certified as urgent by PRRD

A BICOLANO lawmaker has called on the House leadership to quit the highly divisive Charter Change (Cha-Cha) initiative as the country continues to grapple with a surge in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, the tight global supply of vaccines that has hampered the government’s ambitious inoculation drive, and the weak vaccine trust among many Filipinos.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte said that rather than remain adamant on amending the Constitution in this precarious season of the pandemic, the officers and members of the House of Representatives should just join him in supporting three economic reform measures recently certified as urgent by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte to further liberalize the economy—sans constitutional reform—and return it to its pre-COVID path of high and inclusive growth.

These low-lying fruits, he said, are the proposed amendments to the Public Service Act (PSA), Retail Trade Liberalization Act (RTLA) of 2000, and Foreign Investments Act (FIA) of 1991, which President Duterte said should be immediately enacted “in order to address the immediate and continuing need for legislative reforms to provide a more conducive investment climate, increase job opportunities, foster more competition and further spur the country’s economic growth.”

“The three bills certified as urgent by President Duterte are doable reforms that aim to instantly make the economy more attractive to investors. Passing these measures is a more viable and acceptable option than tinkering with the Constitution on the premise of removing its restrictive economic provisions. The House, under the current leadership, has yet to earn the trust of the public, which remains suspicious of moves to amend the Constitution ahead of next year’s elections,” Villafuerte said.

While he has long been an advocate of constitutional reform, Villafuerte said reviving Cha-Cha now is “the wrong time to pursue this politically sensitive and potentially divisive issue as it would only deflect national attention from the pressing concerns of COVID-19 response and economic recovery.”

“The bills endorsed by the President on amending the FIA, PSA and RTLA should be our doables in lieu of Cha-Cha when the Congress resumes session on May 17,” said Villafuerte, “to make the Philippines a more attractive hub for foreign investors.”

He pointed out that Cha-Cha will not actually bring about immediate reform that could help in the ongoing economic recovery efforts because the current House proposal to ease constitutional restrictions on foreign participation in businesses does not directly empower the Congress to immediately relax investment-related provisions of the 1987 Charter.

Villafuerte said this is because the current proposal in the House to lift prohibitive economic provisions in the Charter—Resolution of Both House (RHB) No. 2 authored by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco—would ultimately be decided by Filipinos in a plebiscite come May 2022 yet.

In contrast, said Villafuerte, “the three bills endorsed as urgent by President Duterte to ease restrictions on foreign participation in local businesses would, once passed and enacted into law, usher in immediate reform that would help hasten economic recovery and

transform the Philippines into a magnet for FDIs in the region.”

Villafuerte said the necessary amendments to the FIA, RTLA and the PSA would at once liberalize the restrictive economic rules for foreign corporations, thereby encouraging overseas investors to do business in the Philippines or expand their current enterprises here.

He reiterated his earlier proposal that rather than pursuing Cha-Cha, lawmakers could also help the government beef up its COVID-19 response efforts by, for instance, initiating or joining information campaigns on the mass inoculation drive in their respective congressional districts to reverse the high vaccination hesitancy among Filipinos, as reflected in public opinion polls.

“Charter Change should have been done yesterday,” said Villafuerte. “Amid the health and economic crises now sweeping across the globe, we should keep our focus on COVID-19 response, which will be the only way for us to put any semblance of normalcy back into our lives.”