MANILA — Lawmakers on Thursday downplayed the chances of Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 reaching the Senate, which seeks to relax economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution currently limiting foreign ownership.
The measure, passed on second reading at the House of Representatives on Wednesday, seeks to insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in several sections of the Charter’s Article 12 (national economy and patrimony); Article 14 (education, science and technology, arts, culture and sports), and Article 16 (general provisions).
To reach the third and final reading, the resolution, penned by House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, needs the approval of three-fourths of the lower chamber's 300 members, equivalent to 225 lawmakers.
While the resolution has strong support in the House, it is facing the contrary in the Senate.
For Senate President Vicente Sotto III, the first problem RBH 2 faces is the availability of time.
“I don’t think we have enough time as it is to take a quick look into the proposal. Anyway, the bills certified by the Palace as urgent have passed or are in advance stages in the Senate. We have 5 days to go before the sine die adjournment,” Sotto said in a text message.
For Sen. Panfilo Lacson, restrictive provisions in the Constitution that lawmakers seek to relax can already be addressed by the President’s earlier measures he had certified as urgent.
These are the bills amending the Public Services Act (Senate Bill No. 2094), Foreign Investments Act (SB No. 1156), and Retail Trade Liberation Act (SB No. 1840).
“Apparently, there is no compelling reason to amend the Charter without running afoul of the issue involving the manner of voting by the members of the two chambers of Congress - whether jointly or separately," Lacson said.
"The senators assert that only the Supreme Court can interpret the provision to amend or revise the Charter. The problem is the absence of the cause of action that would trigger the Court to act and resolve the matter,” he pointed out.
The senator added that any discussion about Charter change would not prosper, unless the issue about the manner of voting – or whether the two chambers will vote jointly or separately – is finally resolved.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon echoed him, citing the recently signed CREATE law designed to entice more investments in the Philippines.
The Senate as a whole is not interested in any Charter amendments, Drilon said.
“My reading is that the Senators are not inclined to support amendments to the Constitution at this time. It was not even in the agenda of the LEDAC meeting yesterday, which means it is not a priority legislation,” he explained.
Sen. Grace Poe says the as economic charter change is a matter that deserves “less attention."
Poe said the Public Services Act Amendments bill would allow more foreign investors to come in.
She added that the Foreign Investments Act, which seeks to further relax the country’s economic restrictions, and the Retail Trade Liberation Act, which wants to reduce paid-up capital, would allow more businesses to invest in the Philippines.
“I am personally wary of a piecemeal revision of the Constitution. It is a living document which holds the aspirations of the people. It should only be revised under the strictest of scrutiny for the right reasons,” she said.
“You don't just change it on a whim especially now that everyone is fearful of a creeping invasion in our shores. Tinkering with the Constitution should always be our last resort,” she added.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III also believes there is “no more time" as the "legislative plate is too full,” for senators to be able to accommodate RBH 2.
Sen. Imee Marcos, on the other hand, said: “I doubt both- there is neither material time nor immediate and broad support in the Senate.”
One of the framers of the 1987 Constitution had warned that fresh moves to amend economic provisions of the charter were “very dangerous and insidious.”
Lawyer Christian Monsod earlier said amending it amounted to “a wholesale transfer of power from the Constitution to the Congress on determining your limitations on foreign ownership of land, natural resources, public utilities, media advertising, and educational institutions.”