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By Imee Charlee C. Delavin

Charter change OK’d by House panel

Posted on March 04, 2014

A HOUSE PANEL yesterday approved a resolution calling for changes to certain economic provisions of the Constitution, putting in motion a process that proponents claim will lead to increased investor interest in the Philippines.

Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 1, filed by House Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr. at the opening of the 16th Congress last July, was passed by the constitutional amendments committee with 24 affirmative votes, two nays and one abstention.

Committee chairman Rep. Mylene J. Garcia-Albano (Davao City, 2nd district) said a panel report would be prepared immediately and presented in the plenary for second reading approval.

Mr. Belmonte, in sponsoring the bill last year, said the House leadership was keen on amending the Constitution’s economic provisions, particularly to relax the 60-40 rule that limits foreign ownership in certain industries.

RBH 1 seeks to add the phrase "unless otherwise provided by law" to the foreign ownership sections of the Constitution, particularly for land, public utilities, natural resources, and media and advertising.

The phrase will specifically be added to Sections 2, 3, 7, 10 and 11 of Article 12 on National Patrimony and Economy. It will also be added to Section 4, paragraph two of Article 14 on Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports, and to Section 11, paragraphs one and two of Article 16 -- the General Provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

The amendment, Mr. Belmonte stressed during his sponsorship, would not immediately benefit the economy "but would allow Congress to make amends on the economic provisions of the Constitution when they deem the need to do so."

"In order to realize the full benefit of inclusive growth, the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution must be lifted. Growing global interest in Asia provides an opportunity for the Philippines to compete...," he then said.

Asked to comment, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines senior adviser John D. Forbes yesterday said: "The House has taken a first step towards important economic reforms."

Bayan Muna representatives Neri J. Colmenares and Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, who voted against approving RBH 1, criticized the House committee as bowing to the desires of the Aquino administration.

"This inordinate, overspeeding by which the majority drove Cha-cha [Charter change] train is ominous of another foreign colonization courtesy of Congress. It’s very clear now that Cha-cha is the priority of the Aquino administration," they claimed.

With the committee wrapping up its deliberations after only four hearings beginning February, the two legislators said public consultations had been discarded to "railroad the approval of Cha-cha (Charter change)."

Malacañang was not immediately available for comment. President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, however, has rejected changes to the 1987 Constitution, which was passed during the term of his mother, Corazon C. Aquino.

Last month, the President said "disruptions" would arise from constitutional amendments.

Mr. Belmonte, following yesterday’s approval of RBH 1, issued assurances that changes would "only focus on easing the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution and nothing else".

Previous attempts to amend the Charter had faltered as the proposed amendments included extending limits on the terms of elected officials.

"I will personally block any attempt ... I will stop the plenary debate if there’s a move on term extension," Mr. Belmonte claimed.

The Senate, he added, would act on the measure once it passed the House on third and final reading.

Second reading approval is not expected to be immediate. With Congress scheduled to take a break from March 15 to May 4 for the Lenten season, Mr. Belmonte said: "It should probably be after we reconvene."