THE INAUGURAL session of the Constitutional Commission of 1987 presided over by Vice-President Salvador Laurel. — OFFICIALGAZETTE.GOV.PH

A PROPOSAL to change economic provisions of the Philippine Constitution to make it more investor-friendly is unnecessary and duplicates recently enacted legislation, according to several senators.

The latest Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act and Foreign Investments Act are all the country needs to attract foreign investments, Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay said in a statement on Thursday.

“The economic reforms we have introduced are a response to the lack of provisions in the Constitution, and an answer to the issues of foreign equity limitation in utilities, power, telecommunications, transport and aviation, infrastructure and other sectors,” she said in a statement in Filipino.

“The country is still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, but we’re confident these reforms are sufficient to encourage investors and help revitalize our economy,” she added.

Ms. Binay said Charter change would be “too divisive.”

“What we need is unity to prepare for a possible global recession,” she said. “We should focus on issues that are directly connected to the stomach such as the price of basic commodities and problems in agriculture.”

“Our people are too preoccupied with daily living struggles,” Senator Aquilino Martin D. Pimentel III said in a separate statement. “Although we need constitutional changes to improve our system of government, this can wait as we should first address the basic daily living problems like where to get food to feed the family, the continued increase in prices, where to get a job, corruption, the high cost of living and even of dying, and many more basic problems.”

“Also, why prioritize changing economic provisions of the Constitution when what needs to be changed are the political provisions?” he asked.

Senator Mary Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares, who heads the economic affairs committee, said the Charter change push is suspicious.

“There’s no need at the moment for a constituent assembly,” she told reporters in Filipino, according to a transcript sent by her office. “Unless the proponents are pushing for another agenda.”

“But if there is another reason, like term extension — maybe that’s the reason — that needs to be debated. Is the length of the term of a person serving the government more important or how well he served the government?”

“I can’t really say if it will make that much of an impact, probably marginal,” Percival Peña-Reyes, director of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Center for Economic Research and Development, said by telephone.

“We won’t really get to see that much response in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow,” he said. “More work needs to be done, and if you really want to attract more FDIs, there are many recommendations on how to do it.”  

John Paolo R. Rivera, an economist at the Asian Institute of Management, said he supports economic liberalization, but the Charter change push could just duplicate the amended Public Service Act, for one.

“The best way to attract foreign investments is for the Philippines to demonstrate strong economic leadership and ensure that the conduct of business in the country is efficient,” he said. “Once this is established, we can liberalize further so that safety nets are still in place.”

Senator Robin C. Padilla on Wednesday filed a resolution seeking to amend the Constitution through a constituent assembly.

“To accelerate economic growth and fulfill its international commitment, the Philippines must amend its Constitution by removing these restrictive economic provisions to allow foreign businesses to directly invest in a more conducive landscape,” he said in a statement.

Among his proposals is to allow the state to undertake exploration, development and the use of natural resources or enter into co-production, joint venture or production-sharing agreements with corporations at least 60% Filipino-owned.

He also proposed to disallow private companies from holding alienable lands of the public domain except by lease for at most 25 years, renewable for not more than 25 years, and not to exceed 1000 hectares.

Antonio A. Ligon, a law and business professor at De La Salle University, said the Constitution should only be changed when “the Filipino people, in their sovereign capacity, finds the need to change it.” Reducing corruption might be a more effective solution to attract foreign investments, he added.

“Any moves for Charter change must be grounded on the sentiments of the public, not simply the politicians or the business lobby,” Jan Robert R. Go, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Wednesday said the 1987 Constitution, which was crafted after his late father and namesake was ousted by a popular street uprising in February 1986, remains dynamic and flexible.

It is capable of adapting to the changing times and circumstances, he said in a statement released on Philippine Constitution Day.

“That is merely a perfunctory statement meant to evade any attempt to trap him about his stand on Charter change,” Arjan P. Aguirre, a political science professor at the Ateneo De Manila University, said via Messenger chat.

Mr. Go said the president should clarify his stance on any charter change push “because it will reflect his priorities.” “If he does not have Charter change in mind, then whatever actions done in Congress may not actually fly.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza