charter change

Constitution sacred, ‘cannot be amended at will or convenience’ – Lagman

Mara Cepeda

OPPOSITION LAWMAKER. Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman gestures during a committee hearing.

File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

Representative Edcel Lagman says he finds the economic charter change resolution 'questionable' since it would give Congress 'blanket authority' to amend the Constitution

Veteran lawmaker Edcel Lagman opposed the renewed push of House of Representatives to amend the 1987 Constitution, saying the charter was “sacrosanct” and “cannot be amended at will or convenience.”

The Albay 1st District representative made this statement as he interpellated House committee on constitutional amendments chair Alfredo Garbin Jr during the resumption of plenary debates on the proposed economic charter change (Cha-Cha) resolution on Tuesday, March 9. 

“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.

Lagman was responding to Garbin’s defense for Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2, which would add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to the economic provisions to empower Congress to pass laws lifting current restrictions on foreign investors.

Garbin said that in its current form, RBH 2 would not yet impose a specific change to the “60-40 rule” on foreign ownership of industries in the Philippines.  He said it would just give Congress “flexibility to respond to the needs of times as compared to the status quo.”

“Now the beauty of it is that Congress may reduce, remove, or even restore the economic restrictions as may be called by the prevailing circumstances. As to whether that is constitutional, yes, it is constitutional,” said Garbin. 

He also justified RBH 2 by saying several provisions of the Constitution give this similar power to Congress through the addition of similar phrases. 

But Lagman said that in these constitutional provisions, Congress was authorized to implement a mandate of the Constitution, not to supplant or deny it as being proposed under RBH 2. 

“In our Cha-Cha resolution now, the ultimate proposal is to supplant, to deny, to reduce to dilute, to disregard the present constitutional provisions on the dominance of Filipinos in the utilization of our natural resources and the operation of public utilities, educational institutions, mass media, and advertisement enterprises,” said Lagman in a mix of English and Filipino.

He also pointed out that RBH 2’s process for Cha-Cha is “questionable” since it would give Congress a “blanket authority” to effectively amend the Constitution through legislation. 

The charter provides for only 3 ways to propose amendments or revisions: by both houses of Congress convening itself into a Constituent Assembly, through the creation of a separate body  formed by elected delegates called the Constitutional Convention, or through People’s Initiative. 

“The problem with the components of the economic Cha-Cha is that the sweetener is not there, because the phrase ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ is completely contingent, it is incomplete. It does not send the signal on how far are we going to liberalize the economy,” said Lagman.

Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, had warned that Philippine lawmakers could sell out the country to foreigners should they succeed in amending the economic provisions of the charter.

Cha-Cha efforts have been revived in the House upon the orders of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, who wanted to ease the restrictions on foreign investors to help the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

But this was just the latest twist in efforts to change the charter under President Rodrigo Duterte, who ordered Congress leaders to revive Cha-Cha not with COVID-19 in mind, but to further crack down on leftist party-list lawmakers

Senators are still opposed to amending the Constitution, believing it would be “more practical”  to just pass bills designed to attract more foreign investors than opting for the divisive Cha-Cha route. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.