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House kicks off plenary debates on charter change

The House of Representatives is now debating on the charter change (Cha-Cha) resolution aimed at easing current restrictions on foreign investment in the Philippines.

On Monday, February 22, House committee on constitutional amendments chair Alfredo Garbin Jr sponsored Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 in the plenary, signifying the start of the entire chamber’s deliberations on the proposed economic Cha-Cha. 

Garbin said that while the foreign investment restrictions in the Constitution are "well-meaning," they have made Filipinos suffer in the long term and have "given rise to monopolies and oligopolies by some Filipino-owned industries at the expense of consumers."

"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.

The Ako Bicol representative also said RBH No. 2 would not bar Filipino lawmakers from reintroducing these restrictions later on should "changing circumstances and new challenges" in the future require it due to national security issues. 

The resolution – primarily authored by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco – proposes to add the phrase "unless otherwise provided by law" to constitutional provisions saying only Filipino citizens can control, own, and/or lease alienable lands of public domain, natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, mass media companies, and advertising companies in the Philippines.

This means lawmakers would be able to use legislation to lift the current prohibitions on foreign investors – something the Constitution does not allow Congress to do at the moment. 

RBH No. 2 states both the House and the Senate should vote separately to approve the economic Cha-Cha amendments. Three-fourths of the total membership of each chamber must vote in favor of the resolution for it to hurdle both chambers.

Velasco and his House allies have argued that allowing more foreigners to own and manage industries in the Philippines would help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. 

But senators are still not convinced as they questioned the propriety of pursuing Cha-Cha right in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and this close to the 2022 presidential elections.

They also said passing bills designed to attract foreign investors is "more practical" than opting for the divisive Cha-Cha route. Past Cha-Cha attempts under the Rodrigo Duterte presidency have so far failed because senators opposed them.

Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco, a former congressman, earlier said local chief executives are also too busy dealing with the COVID-19 crisis to think about charter change, let alone promote it to their residents.

The House revived its Cha-Cha hearings in January 2021, weeks after Duterte himself ordered Congress leaders to make one last attempt at amending the Constitution. 

Duterte, however, wants the Constitution amended not with COVID-19 in mind, but to further crack down on party-list legislators who are critical of his administration. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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