MANILA - The House of Representatives on Monday began plenary debates on changes to certain economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A House panel earlier 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.
Upon the motion of Deputy Majority Leader Josephine Lacson-Noel to tackle Committee report 735 on Resolution of Both Houses #2 submitted by the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Deputy Speaker Kristine Singson Meehan prefaced the beginning of the debates with this declaration: “Pursuant to Article 7 Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, and in consonance with Section 144 and 145 of Rule 21 of the Rules of the House of Representatives , the House is now exercising its constituent powers.”
“No Constitution, however gifted its framers, is likely to prove adequate for an indefinite period. There are problems that no human foresight can anticipate. As conditions are never static, so must the fundamental law be freed from the constraint of rigidity. While it is reduced to writing, it should not be devoid of the element of flexibility," said Committee Chairman Alfredo Garbin in his sponsorship speech.
Garbin explained there are nationalist provisions in Article XII (i.e., Secs. 2, 3, 7, 10, 11.), Article XIV (i.e., Sec. 4 ) and Article XVI (Sec. 11), which critics claim to be an emotional reaction by the majority of the members of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, to the abuses of the Marcos administration during Martial Law.
“Nationalist groups do not see any benefit to further opening the economy to foreign capital. They point out that domestic enterprises are not yet prepared to compete with foreign corporations that are equipped with huge investments and advanced technologies. What is of greater urgency for the government to address are the factors that are the main disincentives to the massive entry of foreign direct investments, such as inadequate infrastructure, graft and corruption, bureaucratic red tape , influence peddling and high costs of doing business," he said.
Garbin said “ these provisions have given rise to monopolies and oligopolies by some Filipino-owned industries at the expense of consumers."
He said it is wise for Congress to amend the Constitution by adding the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in order to give the government enough flexibility to consider different circumstances prevailing at different stages.
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 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."
While several business groups have supported amending the Charter's economic provisions, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned that adding the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to these provisions could weaken the country’s highest law.
The PCCI also questioned the timing of the charter change effort.
Other business groups also had 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.