Two prominent economic experts supported Friday efforts of the House of Representatives to review economic provisions of the Constitution, and that the amendments being introduced should be approved sooner rather than later.
Congress is currently conducting preliminary hearings on Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 authored by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, seeking to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” on sections of Articles XII, XIV and XVI of the Constitution.
Economist Bernado Villegas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, said the Philippines was one of the fastest emerging economies in the world, averaging 6 percent growth before the pandemic hit. Villegas added that the country’s economy was still expected to grow, even in the midst of a pandemic.
“We are rated high in terms of financial strength because over the last 10 years, we have strengthened our financial institutions. Now, we are considered to have one of the best central banking systems in East Asia,” Villegas said in a virtual forum titled “RBH 2 and Its Impact on Economic Liberalization” hosted by BusinessWorld on Friday.
Villegas said the country was poised for a dynamic growth in the next 10 years, and the amendments to the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution would help in further boosting the profile of the Philippines to foreign direct investors.
“The Asia Pacific Region has not fallen into the extreme positions of protectionism like Brexit, America 1st. Within our region, because of the comprehensive regional economic partnership that was just signed, we are still open to trading and investing with one another,” Villegas said.
Villegas cited the country’s low agricultural output as a prime example where direct foreign investments could propel the agricultural sector through much needed capital and technological inflow.
“China and our Northeast Asian neighbors are struggling with food security. They will need as much food as possible for their people, and Thailand and Vietnam are already taking advantage of this situation,” he said.
In the same forum, Anthony Abad, a lawyer who specializes in international trade, said that a Constitution rarely includes specific economic provisions such as foreign direct investments (FDI).
“There is usually a general statement that focus on the promotion of national development. In fact, most Charters of other countries are short and concise,” Abad said.
Abad also stated that the Philippines ranked highest when it comes to FDI regulatory restrictiveness, according to the 2019 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) restrictiveness index. The country accounts for only 6.3 percent of the entire FDI in the ASEAN region.
Abad added that while a Constitution should provide limits to the powers of Government, it should not hinder the ability of the government to act for the benefit of the country, especially in times of need like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s going to be a dramatic effect just by the act of removing the restrictions and liberalizing economic provisions in our Constitution. We’re coming from a low base. The Philippines is notorious for its protectionism and protecting specific companies, specific business and political interests from competition,” said Abad, who also provides technical assistance to multinationals, governments and academic institutions on matters of trade policy.
“There is a need to revise the Constitution. it is not written in stone to the extent that we are compromising our ability to alleviate poverty, to ensure that everyone is well-fed. The capital has to be there. we cannot do it as a closed system,” Abad said.
“Certainly having a Constitution which has these illogical arbitrary numbers restricting investments is not going to help attract the capital that we need,” Abad said.
In Congress, Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez urged the House committee on constitutional amendments to approve soonest the proposed amendments to economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution to enable the chamber to sit as a constituent assembly to effect Charter Change.
Rodriguez said: “Considering the tight timeline, I call for an early approval of the amendments to these economic provisions by the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments chaired by Cong [Alfredo] Garbin [Jr.] so that this can be sent to the plenary of the House of Representatives . The plenary itself can then convert itself into a Constituent Assembly.”
Rodriguez reiterated his support of the proposed amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution as proposed in RBH No.2.
“These proposed amendments were fully discussed already in the 16th and 17th Congress. All resource persons have already been heard and there is overwhelming support for such amendments,” he said.
RBH 2 specifically aims to amend certain economic provisions of the Constitution, particularly Articles XII (National Patrimony and Economy), XIV (Education, Science, Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports) and XVI (General Provisions).
But in the upper chamber, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he was not yet convinced that Filipins needed a Charter change, saying it would mean changing the Constitution and not just Charter amendments.
Speaking in an interview over CNN Philippines’ The Source, Sotto said that at present, he did not see the need for a Cha-cha.
“Perhaps, we need ‘cha-cha:’ character change. That’s what the country needs. So that’s also C-H-A C-H-A, but different pronunciation.
But he noted that charter amendments would probably be acceptable, particularly on economic provisions.
However, if moves to amend the 1987 Constitution would be extensive, that would be a different thing.
The measure seeks to insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to several sections of the Constitution, which restrict foreign ownership of land, natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, media and advertising.
It provides that by a vote of three-fourths of all its members, the Senate and the House voting separately could propose amendments to the economic provisions of the basic law of the land.
Rodriguez stressed the House is allowed by the Constitution to constitute itself as a Constituent Assembly under Article XVII.
“The Constitution does not require a joint session of Congress; it only requires 3/4 vote of all members of Congress. Therefore, the House itself can convert itself into a Constituent Assembly and approve, by 3/4 vote of all its members, these amendments to the economic provisions in the Constitution,” he said.
“Upon approval of these economic provision amendments, by 3/4 votes of all House members, the proposed amendments will then be sent to the Senate, which can, likewise, constitute itself as a Constituent Assembly and proceed to either approve by 3/4 of its members or reject the proposed amendments,” he added.
He also explained that the deliberations of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on RBH 2 are preparatory and recommendatory, to endorse the economic amendments to the plenary of the House of Representatives acting as a Constituent Assembly.
Rodriguez contradicted the position of Garbin that the committee has already convened into a Constituent Assembly when the panel conducted the hearing on the proposed amendments.
“The Committee hearings are not yet acts of a Constituent Assembly,” Rodriguez said.
“The Constituent Assembly is solely lodged with the plenary session of all members of the House of Representatives acting as a Constituent Assembly.”
According to the Senate leader, he already talked to the other senators regarding the proposed resolution filed in the Senate by Senatos Francis Tolentino and Ronald dela Rosa on chacha, but said they “did not arrive on (sic) anything concrete.”
“I made some calls even about two weeks ago, when the resolution was brought up. talked to other member.I did discuss it with [Senate Minority Leader Franklin] Drilon and we talked about the procedures, the possibilities if ever we do so,” Sotto said.
“We need three-fourths votes to approve any amendment to that effect and we will insist on voting separately, we will insist that nothing is taken up outside the economic provisions. But that was it, it was just plain talk,” he added.
Drilon, a former justice secretary, noted that the Constitution was clear that amendments to or revision of the Constitution required a vote of three-fourths of all of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, voting separately.
In order that the House and the Senate can propose amendments to the Constitution, Congress, with the two houses voting separately, must first convert itself through a resolution into a constituent assembly, Drilon explained.
“Without that authority, without Congress authorizing itself to convert into a constituent assembly, then Rep. Garbin’s declaration that his committee is already convened into a con-ass is invalid,” Drilon said.
“By no stretch of the imagination can one Committee of one chamber of Congress be the constituent assembly envisioned by the Constitution. The Constitution is clear – amendments or revisions may be proposed by the Congress upon a three-fourths vote of all its members. The body chaired by Cong. Garbin is a mere committee and is clearly not a constituent assembly. To subscribe to a different interpretation is to contravene the Constitution,” explained Drilon.
Tolentino and Dela Rosa earlier also sought to convene Congress as a constituent assembly to introduce “limited amendments” to the Constitution.