By Melissa Luz T. Lopez, Reporter

2016 poll can include plebiscite -- Comelec

Posted on May 18, 2015

THE MAY 2016 elections can accommodate a simultaneous plebiscite on the proposed Constitutional amendment to expand foreign ownership of certain types of assets, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said.

Newly-appointed Comelec chairman Andres D. Bautista said that the required yes or no question for the proposal to lift restrictions on foreign ownership can be put on the ballot for next year’s presidential election ballot.

“I think that logistically, it can be done. But that is a political decision that the political branches of government need to make,” Mr. Bautista said in an interview on the sidelines of a Congressional hearing last week on the poll body’s preparations for the upcoming elections.

Currently pending before the House of Representatives is Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 1, a measure being pushed forward by foreign and local business groups to make the Philippines a “more competitive” investment destination.

The measure, primarily authored by Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr., seeks to lift the current restrictions on full foreign ownership of land, media, utilities, advertising, and natural resources, particularly in light of the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations economic integration.

Mr. Belmonte has since proposed that the plebiscite -- to be carried out after Congress passes the constitutional amendments -- be synced with the 2016 presidential elections as a money-saving measure, to address protests that funds are lacking for a separate plebiscite.

Plenary debates on the RBH 1 were closed last Wednesday.

A period for additional amendments will be opened by the House soon after before putting it into a viva voce vote.

Mr. Belmonte said second reading approval may be secured by June 11, but adding that the crucial point will be the nominal third reading vote which should secure the approval of at least two-thirds of the House membership of 290.

Should it hurdle the House, the measure still needs to pass through the Senate.

The Comelec is now in catch-up mode in terms of preparations for next year’s elections, following delays in the procurement of vote counting machines and other equipment for the May 9 polls.

For his part, Mr. Belmonte said he remains hopeful that RBH 1 will be realized.

“If they are saying that there’s no available funding for a plebiscite, it’s okay with me if it will be included as a question during the elections,” Mr. Belmonte told reporters last week.

“This will benefit the next administration. I want everybody to know that it can be done.”