Senators urged to keep an open mind on economic reforms

Philippine News Agency
January 11, 2021

Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr.

MANILA – The chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Monday urged senators to keep an open mind in the proposed amendments to certain economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution to attract foreign investments.

In a statement, Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. said the economic amendments are long overdue, noting that it would improve the investment climate and generate much-needed jobs to counteract the economic contraction caused by the pandemic.

He said the introduction of the phrase "unless otherwise provided by law" in the restrictive economic provisions would give Congress the flexibility and leeway to alter the restrictions when the economic situation requires it.

“For the first time in the 33-year history of our Constitution, we in the House see that economic Cha-cha can succeed if only our counterparts in the Senate will keep an open mind on it and agree to consider relevant proposals from us and their own colleagues,” he said.

Garbin allayed the fears of some senators that agreeing to economic Cha-cha might open the Charter to wholesale amendments that could lead to extending the term of office of incumbent elective officials and lifting of the term limits.

“We are not proposing to open the basic law of the land to revisions. We want to limit ourselves to provisions relating to the economy and national patrimony. We will not touch the political sections of the Charter,” he said.

Garbin stressed that Speaker Lord Allan Velasco himself has committed that the House would confine itself to amending certain economic provisions in the Charter.

“The Speaker’s assurance will serve as our word of honor. In compliance with the Speaker’s instruction, my committee will not entertain any political amendment proposal,” he said.

Garbin argued that the country needs foreign funds to recover from the pandemic in the next two to three years due to the extensive damage caused by the health crisis.

He added economists have projected that due to the deep economic contraction that it has suffered, the country would begin to achieve positive growth only in 2022.

“That is when we hope we already have the constitutional means in place to attract more foreign funds into the country,” he said.

Senators Ronald de la Rosa and Francis Tolentino have filed a resolution to convene Congress as a Constituent assembly (Con-ass) to initiate limited amendments to the Charter.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, earlier said a piecemeal approach and not a total overhaul may be possible in making amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

Sotto, however, expressed optimism on passing possible amendments on economic provisions and the party-list system.

"Ang malinaw na tinanong ng Presidente pag-upo niya ay sinabi niya na (What the President clearly asked is) 'I want this problem with the CPP-NPA [Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army] solved'. So, hinintay ko kung ano ang sasabihin niya (I waited for what he would say) about it. Sabi niya na (He said) the best way is that we remove the party-list system or change it in the Constitution so we can call for a constituent assembly and amend that. And then, of course, samantalahin ninyo na (take advantage of it). You can amend the economic provisions, sabi niya (that is what he said)," Sotto said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson expressed misgivings about the plan to revise the Constitution.

"Without the certainty that both chambers of Congress will be voting separately, and there is none due to the vagueness of that particular provision in the 1987 Constitution -- and only the Supreme Court can make such interpretation -- it's like taking one big step into a mousetrap, or even quicksand for that matter," Lacson said. (PNA)

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