MANILA (UPDATE) - A House panel on Tuesday approved a resolution aiming to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution by allowing Congress to pass laws to regulate foreign investments in the country.
Voting 62-3-3, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments approved Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, which will add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to the Charter’s provisions on the economy.
This is seen to allow Congress to simply pass laws to change the foreign investment restrictions of the Constitution. The measure was approved as the country marked the 34th anniversary of the ratification of the 1987 Constitution.
“Today is the Philippine Constitution Day and it marks the 34th year of ratification of the 1987 Constitution. That’s why we always say we have a living Constitution, but it's far from being perfect,” said Committee chair Rep. Alfredo Garbin.
Lawmakers have said that amending the economic provisions of the Charter, such as the limitations on foreign participation in certain industries like telecommunications, public utilities, mass media, and others, would make the country more attractive to foreign investors. They said this would also help the country’s economic recovery following disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, meanwhile, said the phrase "unless otherwise provided by law" must be strategically located so that it removes only the flexible portion of the policy "and not the permanent protective principle."
"Kung ilagay niyo 'yan sa dulo, lahat ng (If you place that at the end, then all) preceding provision will be changeable by law, which is not good, because that includes the permanent principle of protecting our territory," Velasco said.
"So paki-review lang 'yung (So please review the) placement na otherwise provided by law in the existing proposal so that we make sure that what is made changeable by legislation is only the extent of foreign ownership in the investment in this area,” Velasco added.
While several business groups have expressed support for amending the Charter's economic provisions, the country’s largest business organization had also warned that adding the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to these provisions could weaken the country’s highest law by making it easier for ordinary legislation to amend the Constitution.
On Tuesday, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry also questioned the timing of the charter change effort.
“The issue boils down to the issue of time and of priority. Will Congress have enough time to deliberate on the amendment fully and wisely, given the present pandemic and the many measures to help us overcome the problems it has brought,” said PCCI president Benedicto Yujuico.
Business groups had earlier also said that while they support easing foreign ownership restrictions in some industries, lawmakers should focus on passing bills that would have a more immediate impact on the economy.
The Finance Department also said it favored “doable” economic measures.
In Tuesday’s hearing, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution also said Congressmen should exercise caution in amending the restrictive economic provisions of the Charter, and that they should not change its bedrock principles.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna, who was one of those who drafted the 1987 Constitution, said the bedrock principle is Filipino control over the economy.
But Azcuna also said “the details can be changed by legislation and should be changed by legislation since they are not meant to last for a long time.”
“Economic policy… is not written in stone... It is high time to review these restrictive economic provisions,” Azcuna said.
The House panel, meanwhile, dropped a proposal to allow foreigners to own land.
Garbin has said that the House panel is already acting as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass)— one of 3 methods for Charter change.
Senators, however, have questioned this claim saying Senate involvement is required for a Con-Ass.
Azcuna also said that both chambers must adopt the resolution according to their own rules and that lawmakers should not forget the Senate.
- Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News