MANILA, Philippines — The proposal to amend the 1987 Constitution while the nation continues to face the coronavirus pandemic has split the supermajority coalition in the House of Representatives.
The House leadership is pushing to amend restrictive economic provisions in the Charter, but has drawn opposition from the former speaker, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano.
Senior Deputy Speaker Salvador Leachon said Speaker Lord Allan Velasco sees the need for economic Charter change (Cha-cha) “to address the various challenges” facing government at this time.
Leachon said he agrees with other House leaders that amending the restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution could help boost the country’s recovery from recession caused by the pandemic.
“I’m amendable to it (Cha-cha), no question. It is the right thing to do. That’s also the sentiment of the House leadership. If Senate consents to it, then we see no problem,” the Oriental Mindoro congressman said.
Leachon, a close ally of Velasco and spokesman of the ruling PDP-Laban party, said the issue left for Congress to address is the timing of the move.
“But there is never a wrong time doing the right thing,” he said. “Besides, the question of timing is up to the people for after all, it will be subject to plebiscite for ratification.”
But Cayetano, secretary general of the Nacionalista Party, disagreed and said Cha-cha should not be pursued while the nation is still recovering from the pandemic.
“Wrong timing,” he said in an ambush interview.
“Right now, anything that does not help our people deal with the pandemic should be set aside. You may argue that it will just focus on economic provisions so our economy will improve, but there will be debate and divisiveness on other proposals on political provisions. And this will distract us from focusing on vaccination,” he added.
The House committee on constitutional amendments is set to resume hearings on the Cha-cha proposals this week.
The panel will specifically tackle Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 filed by Velasco, which proposes amendments of economic provisions of the Constitution under Articles 12, 14 and 16 to allow foreign ownersh ip of lands, educational institutions, public utilities and mass media companies and lift the 40-percent foreign ownership restriction on corporations.
It proposes to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the said provisions.
Adding this phrase, according to a business group, “will give Congress the flexibility and leeway to amend those provisions to conform with present economic and technological conditions.”
The measure prescribes a constituent assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution, which requires a vote of three-fourths of all the members of Congress, with each house voting separately.
Sens. Ronald dela Rosa and Francis Tolentino have made a similar proposal in the Senate, also by way of constituent assembly.
Entering discussions on Charter change is President Duterte’s call to restrict the party-list system in Congress, which Leachon agrees is in order.
“It’s a resolve to restrict it or impose rigid limitations for the system to really address what it seeks to address and promote, not just a means to broaden perpetuation to power of those families who want to just cling on power and influence,” he said.
Earlier, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the President wanted the abolition of or amendment to the party-list system to have “this problem with the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) solved.”
Sotto said Duterte believes that members of the Makabayan bloc who are party-list representatives in the Lower House are “sympathizers or connected to the CPP-NPA.”
Leachon said “it’s not a simple legislation” as it would require a constitutional amendment.
Yesterday, Sotto revealed that the Senate majority is poised to file a bill for the amendment of Republic Act 7941, the Party-List System Act of 1995.
“I’ve talked to members of the majority and one of the plans is to file a bill amending the party-list law first, an enabling law to clarify what is marginalized,” said Sotto over radio dwIZ.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian noted that the intention of the Party-list Law is to give voice to marginalized sectors.
“But as we can see the richest are in the party-list groups. That is not the spirit of the Party-list Law,” he said.
“Maybe if we need a caucus with the minority, we can if we really want to discuss that (amending RA 7941),” Sotto said, adding: “Perhaps, I will have to feel the pulse of my senator-colleagues.”
Members of the Makabayan bloc slammed the plan, which they branded as “anti-democracy” and “part of red-tagging and crackdown against CPP-NPA,” and called on proponents to instead get rid of “fake party-list groups.”
At present, there are over 50 House members elected as party-list representatives, making up one-sixth of the chamber’s total membership.
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said the proposal to abolish or reform the party-list system would only result “in the crackdown of representation for the poor and marginalized.”
Another Makabayan bloc member, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, said there could be another agenda in the proposal.
“In truth, the communist bogey is only an excuse to slice and dice the Constitution for the personal purposes of those pushing for it,” she said.
“This is another desperate attempt of the Duterte administration to hold on to power, silence critics and remove those who have been exposing their shameless and disrespectful acts,” she added.
Yesterday, the left-leaning Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) accused the President and his allies in Congress of floating Cha-cha to “deflect attention to more pressing issues” and extend their terms in office.
“They are using the Cha-cha to save themselves from public outrage, extend their lifeline and remain in power beyond 2022,” the KMP said in a statement.
It urged the public “to remain vigilant and to protest against the Charter change proposals” as the congressional hearings on Cha-cha may begin on Jan. 13.
Amid these moves, a group of top business and finance leaders in the country cautioned that amendments to the Constitution should “be confined to the economic provisions only.”
“This will lessen the risk of political controversy and division that could derail the speedy passage of these much-needed amendments,” the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) said.
The FEF said its support for Cha-cha is anchored on the “objective of amending the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution.”
Specifically, the FEF wants the new Charter to provide more room for foreign investors in ownership of corporations, land, media and public utilities in the country.
“These constitutional amendments will improve the investment climate and generate much needed investments and jobs to counteract the economic contraction caused by the pandemic,” it said. – Ding Cervantes, Cecille Suerte-Felipe