House panel drops foreign ownership of land in Cha-Cha resolution

A House committee agreed to strike out from their charter change (Cha-Cha) resolution the proposed amendment that would have allowed foreigners to own land in the Philippines. 

On Tuesday, February 2, the House committee on constitutional amendments deleted this provision just before they approved Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2, which is designed to allow Congress to tinker with the current restrictions on foreign investors by way of legislation.

The committee gave their nod to economic Cha-Cha on the same day the country commemorated the 34th anniversary of the 1987 Constitution’s ratification. 

It was panel vice chair and Iloilo 3rd District Representative Lorenz Defensor who moved to drop RBH 2’s original proposal to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to Section 7, Article XII of the charter.

The provision currently states that “no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of public domain.” 

Had the committee agreed to pass RBH 2 as is, then adding the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” would have essentially empowered Congress to pass a bill allowing foreign ownership of land in the Philippines. 

Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who generally backs economic Cha-Cha, had previously cautioned lawmakers against opening up land ownership to foreigners. 

He said land ownership is an “emotional” issue in the Philippines, whose colonial history saw foreigners like the Spaniards dispossessing land from Filipinos.

Instead, Dominguez recommended allowing foreigners to just lease land in the long term, which is one of the economic amendments currently being proposed under RBH 2.

“We can open it (economy) as wide as we can, with the exception of land ownership…. Land is a very emotional issue for Filipinos. However, there are ways to get around land ownership,” said Dominguez during the House hearing last January 26. 

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, main author of RBH 2, and other lawmakers have defended their revived Cha-Cha efforts by saying allowing more foreign investors would help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. 

But their counterparts in the Senate are mostly not convinced, with senators questioning the propriety of pursuing Cha-Cha right in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and this close to the 2022 presidential elections.

Senators also said passing bills designed to attract foreign investors is “more practical” then opting for the divisive Cha-Cha route. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate 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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