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Senate to block Cha-Cha, plan to cut term limits

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Senate of the Philippines
BW FILE PHOTO

MOVES TO AMEND the 1987 Constitution amid a coronavirus pandemic won’t prosper in the Senate, an opposition lawmaker said on Sunday, warning of an alleged plot to delay the 2022 presidential elections and remove term limits.

“These will be blocked and won’t slip past the Senate,” Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon told dzBB radio. “The chance of it being passed in the Senate is very small.”

About 1,500 municipal mayors were reportedly pushing to amend the charter to institutionalize the higher share of local governments in national taxes and ease restrictions on foreign investments.

The shift to a federal form of government was among the campaign promises of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, beginning with the appointment of a 22-member Consultative Committee in January 2018.

The body, which reviewed the 1987 Constitution, drafted the Bayanihan Federalism bill for submission to the 17th Congress.

The draft, however, was set aside as then House members approved their own version. The measure was put on the back burner after it failed to gain support at the Senate before the 17th Congress adjourned.

Mr. Duterte had also created a task force headed by the Interior Secretary to propose changes to the Constitution. The body had sought to remove economic restrictions in the charter, including the ban on foreign investment in some industries.

The Philippines is at the bottom of Southeast Asian countries in terms of foreign direct investment, and Mr. Duterte wanted to change this by changing the Constitution, the task force had said. Charter change is colloquially referred to as Cha-Cha.

The Finance department wanted to eliminate all references to citizenship restrictions with respect to industries such as mass media and advertising, educational institutions, practice of professions, natural resources, mineral wealth and public utilities.

A new proposal is pending at the House that seeks to lift limits on foreign investments and the grant of a franchise to public utilities, among other economic provisions. It will also increase the number of senators to 27.

Senators’ term of office will be cut to five years from six, while congressmen can serve for five years from three years.

“The intention is to postpone the 2022 elections and failing that, remove term limits,” Mr. Drilon said. He also said there is no need to legislate the higher share of local governments in national taxes because it has been institutionalized.

He added that the Senate was working on opening up the economy to more foreign investments through changes to the Public Service Act and Retail Trade Liberalization Act, which are both pending at the committee level.

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments had deferred a committee report on proposed changes to the 1987 Constitution as it considered other proposals on federalism. — Charmaine A. Tadalan





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