MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The 15th Congress officially opened its third session on Monday, with the leaders of both chambers urging lawmakers to push for charter change.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte also called on their colleagues to put 2 crucial measures to a vote.
In his speech, Enrile acknowledged that the Senate still has many urgent bills to pass, including measures concerning the economy.
"The Senate will be focusing on vital measures for the improvement of the economy," he said, citing Senate Bill 3098 that will prohibit or discourage the formation of anti-competitive mergers and anti-competitive conduct in business," he said.
Enrile also said it is time for lawmakers to review the 1987 Constitution.
He said he would push Charter change because “it is needed by the country.”
“We must adopt a flexible policy than a very rigid one,” he added.
"The Senate will discuss the introduction of amendments to the 1987 Constitution," he said. "The Senate agrees to amend, particularly on the economic provisions of the present charter."
Enrile, in a press statement, dismissed fears that charter change could be abused by lifting the term limits of government officials.
“It will not happen because the two Houses agreed and we will pass the resolution. You will see whether we are going to tinker with other provisions of the Constitution," he said.
Enrile said he and Belmonte are keen on discussing the issue with the Palace.
“No, we are not talking about the time yet. We are going to discuss this with the President. He is the Chief Executive of the country and he’s entitled to know and be informed," he said.
Riding on gains
Belmonte echoed the call for charter change at the House of Representatives.
He said restrictive provisions of the Constitution limit the country's economic growth.
“The productive capabilities and resources of our country need to be unleashed – not shackled by a constitutional straightjacket that denies from our people the benefits that can flow from expanding access to their utilization by Filipinos and foreigners under such terms that will continue to preserve the national patrimony for the well-being of the Filipino," Belmonte said.
"We must break the boom-and-bust cycle. We need to attain much higher and more consistent rates of growth to eventually eradicate poverty," Belmonte added.
He said the country needs investments, including foreign capital, to create more jobs.
"What I am suggesting is for us to take the first step towards relaxing the restrictive economic provisions of our Constitution to allow Congress to enact laws that would define foreign participation and nationality requirements in strategic sectors of our economy," he said.
"The Filipino-first policy is but a step towards the inclusive growth we are seeking. It has not brought us the economic growth we dreamed to achieve. We need to find new paths and take new steps away from the restrictive protectionist economic path," he added.
Belmonte said the push for charter change will not lessen the focus of the House on other issues.
Enrile and Belmonte also urged colleagues to put 2 controversial measures to vote: the reproductive health bill and the freedom of information bill. - with reports from Jay Ruiz and Jekki Pascual, ABS-CBN News; ANC