House committee OKs charter change

MANILA, Philippines – Voting 24-2-1, the House committee on constitutional amendments on Monday, March 3, approved on first reading the charter change resolution filed by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

The proposal will now proceed to the next stage, second reading, where all members of the House can interpellate the proponents and possibly propose amendments to the proposal. 

Committee member Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas is confident the proposal will have a better chance than controversial charter change proposals in previous congresses.

"We are only touching the economic provisions of the Constitution. It is very clear. We will add the phrase 'unless otherwise provided by law,'" he told Rappler.

House Resolution 1 seeks to add the phrase "unless otherwise amended by law" to articles in the Constitution that specify 40% limits to foreign ownership of land and businesses, including management of media, franchises to public utilities, and ownership of educational institutions. (READ: Belmonte's charter change train takes off)

The resolution also seeks to increase foreign participation in developing, exploring, and utilizing lands of public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources. The Constitution provides that at least 60% of capital should be owned by Filipinos.

The Speaker has pushed for these amendments, saying this will increase foreign direct investments in the country, and will then create jobs, boost income, fuel economic activity and improve technology.

Support from business

President Benigno Aquino III has kept a distance from the debate. He has been in principle against any attempt to change the Constitution that was drafted under the administration of her mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.

Foreign chambers and local business groups including the Makati Business Club support the proposal. Constitutionalists are split, however, on the mode that the House of Representatives is taking to amend the Constitution. Belmonte is taking the legislative route to approve the proposal, which is not expressly indicated as a mode in the Constitution. 

Father Joaquin Bernas supports the legislative route but others suggest the Senate and the House of Representatives should convene jointly as a Constitutent Assembly. (READ: Charter change by legislation: Constitutional or not?)

Belmonte was not present when his proposal was approved but he was represented by Ako Bicol partylist Representative Rodel Batocabe.

The 2 lawmakers who voted against the proposal are Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate. Pampanga Representative Oscar Rodriguez abstained. 

The committee approval follows the timeline of Belmonte who hopes to get the resolution approved within the year. 

Committee vice chairman Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga is confident the resolution will pass. "The opposition is much less as compared to the opposition during the time of presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. As a matter of fact, even the Roman Catholic Church has not stated its opposition to Charter Change," he said. – Rappler.com