‘Political revisions possible in economic Cha-cha’

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    A RANKING leader of the House of Representatives admitted yesterday that political revisions might be raised once Congress opens Charter change deliberations on proposed changes to the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

    Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the House committee on ways and means, said there is a “risk” that political amendments will be introduced, including the extension of term limits, during Cha-cha discussions in the lower chamber.

    Salceda said taking up proposed political changes during the debates would kill the administration’s renewed Charter change campaign instantly.

    “If there will be politics, goodbye!” he told ANC’s Headstart in a mix of Filipino and English.

    “If you put politics, (it’s) dead on arrival. It’s like getting COVID, in six days you’re dead.”
    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon has already said he and Senators Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, and Leila de Lima will oppose any Cha-cha discussions on the floor.

    Salceda said Speaker Lord Allan Jay Velasco is well aware of this, adding this is why he will be meeting with the leaders of the various political parties to ensure that no lawmaker will attempt to insert political amendments.

    He said Velasco wants to ensure that political proposals will be set aside “because it has many permutations and secondly, there are a lot of motivations (among congressmen to try introducing political amendments).”

    Velasco’s close ally, Senior Deputy Speaker Salvador Leachon, told the same program in a separate interview: “I’m not insinuating something but that’s the reality, if it’s a constituent assembly… when we say constituent assembly we’re open to amendment or revision.”

    The left-leaning Makabayan bloc said Congress, once it is convened as a constituent assembly, will be able to tackle any provision in the Constitution and introduce changes.

    Bayan Muna part-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said there is obviously a political motivation behind the renewed Cha-cha initiative, which he noted, is being pushed with only 18 months before the 2022 national elections.

    “The political agenda is obvious and we should stand guard. This will be a divisive issue especially 18 months before the election and they are floating this now,” he told the same program.

    Zarate said the administration is making it appear that only the economic provisions will be touched “to make it palatable especially (to) business (groups) and to consolidate support for the administration from business stakeholders.”

    The Speaker, the author of Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 which seeks to amend the Charter’s economic provisions, said Congress has to enact laws “that will provide much-needed economic relief to our countrymen, especially during these unprecedented times.”

    RBH No. 2 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 chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments urged senators to keep an open mind on the proposed “economic Charter change,” which he said calls for the “minor tweaking of the Constitution’s economic provisions to attract foreign investments.”

    “It’s long overdue. The support and the clamor are there. The introduction of the phrase ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ in those restrictive provisions, as proposed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, will give Congress the flexibility and leeway to alter the restrictions when the economic situation requires it,” said Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr.

    He said the slight change in the Charter’s language “will improve the investment climate and generate much needed investments and jobs to counteract the economic contraction caused by the pandemic.”

    “For the first time in the 33-year history of our Constitution, we in the House see that economic Cha-cha can succeed, if only our counterparts in the Senate will keep an open mind on it and agree to consider relevant proposals from us and from their own colleagues,” he said.

    Garbin sought to allay fears expressed by some senators that economic Cha-cha might lead to wholesale amendments, including extending the term of office of incumbent elective officials and lifting of the term limits.

    He said Congress is not proposing to open the 34-year-old Constitution to revisions and wants to limit the changes to provisions relating to the economy and national patrimony.”

    “The Speaker’s assurance will serve as our word of honor. In compliance with the Speaker’s instruction, my committee will not entertain any political amendment proposal,” he said.

    He said the insertion of the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the economic provisions “means that the present limitations will remain, but Congress would be empowered to relax or lift them in the future, depending on the country’s economic situation, to draw more foreign investments that will generate jobs and income for our people.”

    Garbin said there is no need to amend the Constitution if the President merely wants to ease out left-leaning party-list groups out of Congress because the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can do the job if proven that the Makabayan bloc is supporting the communist armed rebellion led by the CPP-NPA-NDF.

    He said a party-list group can be disqualified and their registration can be canceled under the Party-list System Act if they advocate violence or unlawful means to seek its goal which is to overthrow the government.

    “You know the certificate of registration is a continuing requirement for a party-list representative to sit in Congress. The moment it is canceled then they cease automatically to be a party-list representative. I think that is the proper remedy,” he told reporters.

    Malacañang yesterday continued to distance itself from efforts in Congress to amend the 1987 Constitution even as it explained that President Duterte had always been vocal against some party-list groups that are allied with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Malacañang is leaving it to the lawmakers to decide whether it would push for the amendment of the Constitution or the party-list system law.

    “We of course defer to Congress, to the wisdom of Congress. The President does not legislate so if that is the solution of some senators, number one, of course it has legal basis but number two, it will still depend on them,” he said in mixed English and Filipino following the pronouncement of some senators that amending the party-list law is easier than amending the Charter to remove the party-list system. – With Jocelyn Montemayor
    Senate President Vicente Sotto III had been quoted as saying that the President wanted the party-list system in the country abolished.

    Roque said he was not present in the meeting of the President with the Senate President and could not dispute what Sotto said.

    “What I do know is that the President has always maintained that the Makabayan bloc is in conspiracy with the CPP-NPA. And I think that he has said that over and over again,” he added.