SENATE minority leader Franklin Drilon yesterday said there is no need to speed up discussions on Charter change because amendments to the Constitution can wait until June next year when a new administration comes in.
Drilon said lawmakers should instead focus on more pressing issues that will address the over-all impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the country.
“Is there enough time? That’s one. Number two, given all the problems that we have – pandemic, budget deficit, lack of revenues – would we have enough time to prioritize all these problems? For me, it is best to address the country’s present problems and put our efforts where the attention is immediately needed,” Drilon said in an online media interview.
He said that if Charter change advocates are serious about revising the Constitution, they should let the people decide whether to convene Congress into a constituent assembly or to hold a constitutional convention, either of which can be done next year after the national and local elections.
“Amending the Constitution can wait. My suggestion is that when the next administration sits, that [cha-cha] should be on top of the legislative agenda so we can open the debates if we will have a con-con or con-ass. Do we need to elect delegates [to the con-con]?
Because I will admit, the people have lost faith on the House and the Senate when it comes to amendments to the Constitution. That are so many issues that need to be discussed in the next Congress, in the next administration,” Drilon said.
But Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. will hear none of Drilon’s arguments.
Yesterday, Barzaga said the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution have to be amended because foreign corporations have long been skirting the constitutional prohibition on the ownership of lands and businesses, anyway.
He said some mass media companies are even able to operate in the country “and they are just using dummies, in direct violation of our laws.”
“That’s why I’ve been in favor of Charter change since 2007,” he said in Filipino in an interview with Politiko TV which was posted live on Youtube.
The House committee on constitutional amendments has started discussing proposed Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, which seeks to liberalize the “restrictive” economic provisions in the Constitution which Velasco said “prevent us from becoming fully competitive with our Asian neighbors.”
The Speaker is proposing to amend Sections 2, 3, 7, 10 and 11 of Article XII (National Patrimony and Economy), Section 4 of Article XIV (Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports) and Section 11 of Article XVI (General Provisions) to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law.”
The Constitution limits foreign ownership of land and businesses to only 40 percent, and reserves the other 60 percent to Filipino citizens or corporations.
Barzaga said many foreign investors are being “turned away” by the prohibitive economic provisions of the Charter, depriving the country of the much-needed foreign direct investments (FDI).
He shared that some foreign corporations in Cavite that are locators of the First Cavite Industrial Estate (FCIE) have complained to him about not being able to own the lands where their businesses are standing.
The former Dasamariñas mayor was referring to the FCIE which is a 159.5-hectare industrial subdivision built to service all basic needs of any manufacturing concern of the light-to-medium scale industry.
“We have corporations owned by the Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and even some German companies and they always say, ‘Mayor, we cannot acquire (properties) where we are operating our business.’ In Japan, they don’t want to resort to dummying and they’re saying that the problem is that your land ownership kaya is too restrictive and we’re finding it hard to invest continuously,” Barzaga said.
“The land, although it’s in our name, will still be in the Philippines,” he added, further quoting Japanese investors. “And that (constitutional prohibition) deters the growth of your economy in the Philippines.”
Drilon insisted: “Assuming that the proponents are saying that they will only insert ‘unless otherwise provided by law,’ well, that can be done next year because that will not have an immediate effect.”
Interior undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya said amending restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution will hasten the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the Laging Handa press briefing, Malaya said: “There is no better time (to amend the Constitution) than now and there is no bad timing to a good idea.”
“To us in the DILG, that is important because we need to recover properly from the pandemic we are confronting and it will also help in the recovery of our country if direct foreign investment will grow in our country,” said Malaya.
Malaya, who is also the executive director of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Constitutional Reform, downplayed the apprehension of some quarters as to the timing of the amendment of the Constitution. He pointed out that President Duterte had been pushing for amendments to the Constitution even before he was elected in 2016.
Drilon said economic adjustments to improve the investment climate in the country could already be partially addressed through proposed amendments to the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act, the Trade Liberalization Law, and the Public Services Act which he has filed.
In fact, he said the amendments to the three laws are among the priority measures of the Senate as Congress resumed regular session yesterday.
Drilon said the reasons he sees that contribute to the lack of foreign direct investments in the country are due to “inconsistency of our rule of law, which should be the rule followed rather than the exception, the matter of peace and order, the matter of our problems insofar as corruption and red tape is concerned.”
On the issue of the President wanting to “fix” the party list system in the Constitution, Drilon said he is one with Senate President Vicente Sotto III who said that this could be done through legislative amendment since the party-list law is just an enabling law.
“Realistically, kung idadaan mo sa con-ass mayroong over 60 party-list ngayon (if we amend it the party list system law through a constitutional assembly, there are more than 60 party list groups at present. Do you think they will agree to abolish themselves? That is why I concur with the Senate President that we can achieve the objectives by amending the party-list system Act (to make it) align with the objectives of the Constitution,” he added.
He said that he can only surmise that the House has been insisting on convening Congress into a con-ass because congressmen know that they easily outvote the Senate since under the law, it would require three fourths (3/4) votes of both houses for amendments to be approved.
He said he also foresees that the House will bring the matter before the Supreme Court once the Senate disagrees with the proposal of a con-ass. – With Wendell Vigilia and Victor Reyes