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Renewed push for Cha-cha limited to economic provisions

THE chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments on Sunday reiterated that the renewed push for Charter change (Cha-cha) through constituent assembly (Con-Ass) is limited to the economic provisions of the almost 34-year old 1987 Constitution and would not include term extension, abolition of term limits, and changing the form of government.

Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo “Pido” Garbin, chairman of the committee, said Con-Ass discussions starting this Wednesday will “plainly and exclusively” focus on amending the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution to help the Philippine economy devastated by coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

“Walang term extension, walang abolition of term limits, [at] wala pong change of structure of government,” Garbin, a lawyer, told a radio interview over dzBB.

Garbin explained that the Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco will revise certain economic provisions of Constitution, particularly Articles II or the National Patrimony and Economy, XIV or the Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture, and Sports and XVI or the General Provisions.

“We have decided na i-limit ito sa economic provisions, economic provisions lang para wala masyadong kontrobersiya. Pangangailangan na talaga ito, panawagan na ito, clamor na ito since 13th Congress,” Garbin said.

Velasco said “I have instructed the House committee on constitutional amendments to open the discussions on amending the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, as stated within Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 2 that I have authored.”

“When I filed RBH 2 in July 2019, the Philippines was poised to become one of the fastest growing economies in Asia. The World Bank gave the country a projection of 6.6 percent GDP (gross domestic products) growth in the years 2020 and 2021. No one could have predicted the onset of a global pandemic, along with the devastation it has brought upon the economies around the world,” Velasco explained.

Deputy Speaker and Bagong Henerasyon (BH) party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera is throwing her weight behind efforts to re-think and review the restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution in order to improve the country’s ability to lure a critical mass of foreign investors, especially in the telecommunications industry.

Herrera said that allowing some flexibility to bring in foreign investments will be key for the economy to stage a sustainable recovery from the devastation caused by COVID-19 last year.

According to Herrera, the pandemic has underscored the importance of having an affordable, fast and stable mobile and internet connections, which “unfortunately was not the case in the Philippines because of lack of competition in the telco industry.”

“We suffer from expensive and slow internet connections because we barely have no choice. For the longest time, the country’s telco industry is dominated by only two firms, thus the duopoly,” Herrera said.

Deputy Speaker and Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (Buhay) party-list Rep. Lito Atienza called for “bold reforms in the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution” to enable the country to swiftly attract large-scale foreign direct investments badly needed to rebuild Philippine industries shattered by the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have to overhaul the restrictive provisions of our Constitution and lay the foundations of a new economy that is more welcoming if not totally welcoming to foreign investments,” Atienza said.

“The national economy needs a powerful vaccine – a big shot in the arm by way of several billions of dollars in new foreign investments every year over the next five years,” Atienza said.

Velasco also said “RBH 2 seeks to liberalize the restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution that prevent us from becoming fully competitive with our Asian neighbors. We are proposing to amend Sections 2, 3, 7, 10 and 11 of Article XII (National Patrimony and Economy), Section 4 of Article XIV (Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports) and Section 11 of Article XVI (General Provisions) to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law.” The addition of this phrase will allow Congress to enact laws to free up the economy to foreign investors, or maintain the status quo.”

“Foreign investment plays a crucial role in the Philippine economy by supporting domestic jobs and the creation of 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.

We hope to finish the debates before the end of 2021 and present it to the public for ratification alongside the election of new leaders in the 2022 national elections. Until then, we assure the public that the debates on RBH 2 will be transparent and fair,” Velasco explained.