MANILA - Liberalizing economic provisions of the Constitution by allowing foreigners to fully own public utilities will help the Philippines fully recover from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a top interior official said Thursday.
"This proposal is about long-term economic recovery... Without foreign direct investment, it would be virtually impossible for us to fully recover from this pandemic," Interior Secretary Jonathan Malaya told ANC.
The Philippine economy shrank 9.5 percent last year -- the worst contraction on record, and since World War 2 -- as the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns battered businesses and put people out of jobs.
Forecasts by economists lead to a range of 3 to 5 percent growth for 2021, while the government is keeping its 6.5 to 7.5 percent economic target.
Amending restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution will allow the country to have a "flexible policy regime," Malaya said.
"It doesn’t mean [that] if these amendments pass next year, hopefully, if it comes to a plebiscite, we're not saying that immediately all of these areas will be open to foreign direct investment. There will still need to be legislation and further discussion," he said.
"So, it will be gradual reopening of economy, not a sudden reopening of the economy as others would want to portray such a move."
Malaya also allayed concerns that the proposed amendments would include political provisions.
"The resolution itself states that no political amendments will be included in this measure," he said.
If Congress convenes as a constituent assembly, one of the ways to propose amendments or revisions to the Constitution, Senate has veto power, Malaya said.
"If the Senate has effective veto power here and it has done so many times in the past that's why Cha-cha never succeeded, then what is there to fear? There are 2 chambers in Congress. That's the most effective safeguard possible," he said.
As executive director of the Department of the Interior and Local Government's inter-agency task force on constitutional reform, Malaya said they have gathered over 500,000 signatures nationwide supporting surgical amendments to the Constitution.
"The point here is that if we just explain to the people what the proposed amendments are, they are open to it and once they become knowledgeable, they will give their support," he said.
On Tuesday, a House panel 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.