House plenary starts Cha-cha debates today

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    PLENARY discussions on proposals to relax “restrictive” economic provisions of the Constitution will kick off this afternoon despite calls to defer Charter change (Cha-cha) efforts to allow the government to focus on its COVID-19 response measures.

    Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin, chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, will sponsor Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 on the floor, along with Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the committee on ways and means, and deputy minority leader Stella Luz Quimbo.

    Unlike ordinary bills that can be passed through a simple majority vote, Garbin said the resolution will need the constitutional three-fourths vote of all members, or 225 votes, to be approved.

    Garbin said the House plans to approve the resolution on third and final reading before the Holy Week break on March 27.

    Deputy speaker Michael Romero of 1-Pacman party-list, the leader of the Party-list Coalition who is one of the closest allies of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, said there is more than enough time to approve the specific amendments under the Duterte administration.

    “If it’s only the economic provisions, we can it get it done. There’s enough time,” he said while adding that it will be a lot more difficult to revise the Constitution at this point when the next national elections will be held in just over a year.

    Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said the House leadership should call off its plan to open plenary deliberations on the latest Cha-Cha initiative to allow Congress to focus its time and attention on helping Malacañang ensure the speedy and successful rollout of its COVID-19 vaccination program.

    Instead of kicking off this week the already twice-deferred plenary discussions on RBH No. 2, Villafuerte said the House leadership “should just deep-freeze this highly divisive measure that would only sidetrack the national focus from the Duterte administration’s goal to immunize 70 million Filipinos, or 100 percent of the country’s adult population, against COVID-19 before the year is over.”

    “The time and energy to be wasted on the planned plenary debates on Cha-Cha should be spent instead by House members on helping the government carry out a nationwide public information drive to persuade adults to take part in the upcoming mass vaccination program,” Villafuerte said.

    RBH No. 2 seeks to liberalize the restrictive economic constitutional provisions to allow Congress to enact laws that will free up the economy to foreign investors and provide much-needed economic relief to Filipinos in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    RBH No. 2 proposes to insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to specific provisions of the Constitution, namely five amendments to Article XII (National Patrimony and Economy), one amendment to Article XIV (Education, Science, and Technology), and one amendment to Article XVI (General Provisions).

    The Constitution limits foreign ownership of land and businesses to only 40 percent, and reserves the other 60 percent to Filipino citizens or corporations.