Charter change debates in Philippines: Latest updates, videos, analysis

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What you need to know

President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies in Congress are making one last attempt to amend the 1987 Constitution – and the coronavirus pandemic is their latest twist to justify charter change. 

Many questions linger: Why are lawmakers no longer pushing to shift to federalism? What do experts and legislators say about amending the Constitution’s economic provisions in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis? Can Congress be trusted if it convenes itself into a Constituent Assembly?

With past attempts always meeting a dead end in the Senate, will the Duterte-allied legislators finally succeed with Cha-Cha this time?

Bookmark and refresh this page for articles, photos, and videos on the latest developments in the Cha-Cha debates in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Latest updates

Lawmaker warns Cha-Cha may cause 'instability,' deter foreign investors

Nueva Ecija 3rd District Representative Rosanna "Ria" Vergara is concerned the purported benefit of amending the Constitution's economic provisions – attracting foreign investors to help save the economy – may actually end up doing the opposite.

This is because foreign policy direction tends to change in the Philippines whenever a new president is elected, explained Vergara as plenary debates on charter change continued in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 10.

"I agree that while flexibility will allow us to respond faster, I also worry that the flexibility might result [in] instability because every time there's a new administration every 6 years, it's possible that policy direction changes," Vergara said.

Read more here.

Mara Cepeda

Lagman: Constitution sacred, 'cannot be amended at will or convenience'

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman said the 1987 Constitution is too sacred that it "cannot be amended at will or convenience" by Congress.

This was how the veteran opposition lawmaker countered the justification to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution to ease restrictions on foreign investors. 

"It is not written in stone. However, it is sacrosanct. In other words, it cannot be amended at will or convenience. There must be overriding reasons channeled through constitutional processes which should obtain or warrant charter change or Cha-Cha," Lagman said.

Read more here

Mara Cepeda

Garbin: 'No need' for joint session with Senate to form Con-Ass

House committee on constitutional amendments chair Alfredo Garbin Jr maintained there was no need for the lower chamber to jointly meet with senators to propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution. 

Garbin reiterated his position that the House alone was already considered a Constituent Assembly – one of the 3 ways to propose changes to the charter – as plenary debates on Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 resumed on Tuesday, March 2.

But House Deputy Majority Leader Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla argued there would be better chances for RBH 2 if the House and Senate were to convene and vote jointly on the proposed amendments, since district and party-list lawmakers would outnumber the senators who remain opposed to charter change. 

Read more here.

Mara Cepeda

Velasco eyes House approval of Cha-Cha resolution by May

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco wants the House of Representatives to pass the resolution amending the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution by May this year. 

“I have to talk to [House committee on constitutional amendments] chair Pido Garbin first. But actually, I see finishing the charter change (Cha-Cha) before the end of May before we go break, finish in the House,” Velasco told reporters in a chance interview on Monday, March 1. 

Velasco's new timeline is two months later than the date of passage earlier cited by committee chair Alfredo Garbin Jr., who had said the House leadership wanted the resolution passed before Congress takes a break on March 27.

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Quimbo, Salceda say Cha-Cha ‘necessary 1st step’ towards economic growth

Marikina congresswoman Stella Quimbo and Albay congressman Joey Salceda said removing the restrictions on foreign investors under the 1987 Constitution is a “necessary first step” to push the Philippine economy forward.

The two legislators, both economists, delivered their respective sponsorship speeches as plenary debates for Resolution of Both House No. 2 started on Monday, February 22. 

For Quimbo, amending the restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution was just part of the “long to-do list” for the Philippines. That "list" included investing in infrastructure, reducing the cost of power, eliminating corruption, reducing red tape, and ensuring the rule of law prevails.

“But the necessary first step is to remove the restrictive economic provisions in our Constitution, or else, we risk being left further behind," Quimbo said. "RBH 2 is not a sufficient condition for inclusive growth, but it is necessary to move forward," she added. 

This was echoed by Salceda, who said he was “under no illusion that RBH 2 is a magic wand for all of our problems, but it is a necessary beginning.”

Read more here

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House kicks off plenary debates on charter change

The House of Representatives on Monday, February 22, has started its plenary deliberations on Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 or the economic charter change (Cha-Cha) proposal.

Committee on constitutional amendments chairperson Alfredo Garbin Jr made the case for RBH 2 in his sponsorship speech, saying the "well-meaning" foreign investment restrictions in the 1987 Constitution became detrimental to Filipinos in the long run. 

"It is about time that we correct the unintended anomaly by introducing this amendment that gives Philippine legislature the freedom to amend those time-bound laws that have been enshrined in the Philippine Constitution to the detriment of the common good of Filipinos now and in the future," said Garbin.

Economists turned lawmakers Joey Salceda and Stella Quimbo also delivered their own sponsorship speeches in defense of RBH 2.

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House plenary debates on charter change to kick off on February 22

House committee on constitutional amendments chair Alfredo Garbin Jr said he would be sponsoring Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 in the plenary to begin debates on the proposed economic charter change next Monday, February 22. 

This means the debates would be pushed back to another week, since Garbin was initially eyeing the start of the plenary debates on Monday, February 15. Garbin no longer responded when Rappler asked him why the start of the debates was moved to February 22. 

RBH 2 seeks to add the phrase "unless otherwise provided by law" to the 1987 Constitution's economic provisions with the end-goal of allowing Congress to pass bills easing restrictions on foreign ownership and management of alienable lands of public domain, natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, mass media companies, and advertising companies in the Philippines.

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Villafuerte to Velasco: 'Out of touch' to push through with Cha-Cha plenary debates

Camarines Sur 2nd District Representative Luis Raymund "LRay" Villafuerte slammed Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and the rest of the House leadership for their plan to push through with the plenary debates on Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 or the proposed economic charter change (Cha-Cha) resolution.

Villafuerte, an ally of Velasco's rival and ousted speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, said the Velasco-led House has "misplaced priorities" and lawmakers should instead focus on ensuring all their constituents would be vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

“Why don’t they ask local officials if they still have time to tell people about Cha-Cha while they are too busy with measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their communities and convincing people to get vaccinated to fight the disease? The House leadership seems out of touch with reality and should come to their senses and spend their time and energy instead on helping...people to get vaccinated instead of conducting plenary debates about the highly divisive issue of constitutional reform,” Villafuerte said in a statement on Monday, February 8.

House committee on constitutional amendments chair Alfredo Garbin Jr told Rappler he is eyeing to sponsor RBH 2 in the House plenary by next Monday, February 15. – Rappler.com

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LOOK: House committee's report on economic Cha-Cha resolution

The House committee on constitutional amendments filed on Thursday, February 4, its report on the approval of its economic charter change resolution.

The committee-approved version of Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 proposes to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to provisions under Articles XII, XIV, and XVI of the 1987 Constitution.

Adding the phrase would allow Congress to pass laws easing restrictions on foreign ownership or management of alienable lands of public domain, natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, mass media, and advertising companies.

But the panel agreed to strike out from RBH 2 the proposed amendment that would have allowed foreigners to own land in the Philippines. 

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Garbin: House has 'no Plan B yet' should Senate reject Cha-Cha

House committee on constitutional amendments chair Alfredo Garbin Jr said the lower chamber has no second option – at least for now – should the Senate reject their economic charter change resolution.

Why? Because lawmakers are still hoping senators would finally agree to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

"Umaasa ho kami, si Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, na ito ay bibigyan ng chansa ng Senado. Wala pa kaming second option or Plan B sakaling 'di sumama ang Senado dito sapagkat kami ay naniniwala na ito ay pangangailangan…at kailangang bigyan-pansin at chansa ng Senado," Garbin said during the Ugnayan sa Batasan forum on Wednesday, February 3. 

(We, including Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, are hoping the Senate would give this a chance. We don't have a second option or a Plan B yet in case the Senate doesn't agree to this because we believe this is a need...and is something the Senate should consider.)

Mara Cepeda