Deputy Speaker calls for early approval of economic amendments to Constitution

It would be better to pass pending economic reform measures instead of pushing for Charter Change (Cha-Cha), the Trade and Industry Secretary said on Friday, citing the limited time available to amend the 1987 Constitution.

The House of Representatives is currently conducting preliminary hearings on Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, which seeks to insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the “restrictive” economic provisions of the Constitution. House Deputy Speaker Rufus B. Rodrigez, in a statement released Friday,  said that lawmakers need to swiftly approve the amendments to the 1987 Constitution to ease foreign equity restrictions.

The 33-year-old Charter bars foreign investors from owning more than 40% of certain industries.

“We have nothing against that especially if the amendments are on economic restrictions only,” Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said during a televised press briefing.

Mr. Lopez, however, said there may not be enough time for both chambers of Congress to amend the Charter. The upcoming 2022 national elections may distract lawmakers from passing the proposed measure, he said.

“It would be easy if we can (liberalize the economy) by amending some laws and not necessarily constitutional amendment,” the Trade chief said, adding that the “talks” about charter change would only generate controversy. 

He urged lawmakers to focus on legislating measures reforming the country’s economic policies “in the last few months of the current administration.”

Cha-Cha moves

Meanwhile, House Deputy Speaker Rufus B. Rodrigez said lawmakers have to act quickly to amend the 1987 Constitution. “Considering the tight timeline, I call for an early approval of the amendments to these economic provisions by the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments… so that this can be sent to the plenary of the House of Representatives,” he said.

Members of the lower house first convened a “Constituent Assembly” during a committee hearing on Wednesday to discuss the proposed changes on the Constitution, which will lift current restrictions on foreign ownership. Mr. Rodriguez said deliberations made by the congressmen are only “preparatory and recommendatory” to prepare for the plenary of the lower house. The House of Representatives reopens sessions next week.

“The Constituent Assembly is solely lodged with the plenary session of all members of the House of Representatives acting as a Constituent Assembly,” he said.

Congressmen assured that only economic provisions will be revised and not the political provisions, attempting to allay fears that this might signal a push for President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s longtime campaign to change the form of government to Federalism.

Opposition lawmakers earlier said their colleagues might also use Cha-Cha to extend the terms of politicians.  

House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco earlier this week emphasized the need for revisions to the charter’s economic provisions to improve the investment climate of the Philippines, whose economy fell significantly due to a strict lockdown imposed earlier last year. The country has gradually reopened its economy since the strict lockdowns of early 2020 which were done in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Gillian M. Cortez