MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday he is exploring the feasibility of holding a "rider" plebiscite on the proposal to ease restrictions on the economic provisions of the Constitution in the 2016 elections, if holding a separate referendum would be expensive.
Belmonte is the principal author of Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 seeking to amend some provisions in Articles XII on National Economy and Patrimony, XIV on Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports and XVI on the General Provisions of the 1987 Constitution to attract foreign investments.
The measure seeks to insert “unless otherwise provided by law” in the provisions which means the restrictions on foreign ownership – currently limited to 40 percent – would remain until Congress chooses to lift them via legislation.
Once the resolution is approved both in the Senate and the House, Belmonte said it would be submitted for approval of the people through a nationwide plebiscite within a specific timeframe.
“Instead of a separate plebiscite, I was thinking if for instance in the next elections, it is legal to make a question in the ballot box to be checked by voters, is that the equivalent of a plebiscite?” Belmonte told reporters.
“Besides, a lot of people participate in the elections, which has the biggest voter turnout, and doing it that way, Charter change will be well discussed because a lot of people will be talking about it,” he said.
Belmonte said it is unlikely that the plebiscite on amending the economic provisions of the Constitution would be held this year, even as he noted statements from officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that they are closely following developments in Congress on the measure.
Comelec officials in a recent hearing at the House said they could propose a budget for the holding a plebiscite on the resolution for 2015 if the measure is passed.
Belmonte said the resolution would be tackled in the Senate separately, so it was still possible to hold the plebiscite next year if there is an appropriation for it.
“Let’s face it, the idea that we can do anything more with it other than pass it, is out. If we pass this, this is for the benefit of the next administrations. We can’t do anything about it, except to make it possible for them to have the elbow room to respond to world events,” he said.
Belmonte said he recently had separate meetings with representatives of private companies from the European Union and the US active in Southeast Asia and discussed the issue of restricting the entry of foreign investments.
“What we want is investments that come in and stay here, and I’m referring of course to foreign direct investments which would be creating jobs and also creating economic opportunities for the country,” he said.
The House is set to resume plenary discussions on the proposal next week.
A survey conducted by Pulse Asia last March showed that 44 percent of those aware of efforts in Congress to ease economic restrictions in the Constitution are in favor of the move while 36 percent are still undecided.
Davao City Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano, chairperson of the House committee on constitutional amendments, earlier sponsored the measure on the floor, saying “the issue at hand is the vital role of Congress as an institution to fulfill its constitutional mandate in exercising its constituent power when necessary and crucial to the people’s welfare and the country’s economic progress.”