Congressmen from either side of the fence dispelled on Wednesday the notion that the timing of the renewed Charter Change (Cha-Cha) talks was questionable, if not downright bad.
“We were already in a bad position pre-pandemic, and the pandemic has placed us in even worse position right now,” Deputy Speaker for trade, Valenzuela City Rep. Weslie Gatchalian said during the mixed live and virtual hearing of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments.
The Committee tackled Resolution of Both Houses 2 (RBH 2), which proposes amendments to certain economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, particularly on Articles II, XIV and XVI.
Gatchalian, who belongs to the House majority bloc, noted that there have been past efforts to pursue this so-called “economic Cha-Cha.”
“I remember back in the 16th Congress under the leadership of former Speaker Sonny Belmonte, one of the issues that came out is the timing and ngayon pong 2021, timing muli ang issue (and now in 2021, timing is again an issue) regarding these economic provisions,” he said.
“This representation believes that the definition of timing is very subjective…there’s no other best time to amend the economic provisions in the Constitution than now. If we keep things the same way, it may be too late for us to recover. There’s no better time to act than now,” Gatchalian stressed.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, author of RBH 2, is selling the Cha-Cha effort as the answer to the COVID-19 pandemic-triggered economic slump. Lifting these restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution would supposed lead to more foreign direct investments (FDIs) for the Philippines.
“The pandemic has put the country in a worse position. As reported by the World Bank, the Philippine economy in 2020 shrunk by a total of 8.1 percent, placing the country in the worst economic performance it has seen in almost 35 years,” Gatchalian said.
Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo, a deputy minority leader, agreed with Gatchalian in that economic Cha-Cha can’t come any sooner.
“Kung yung sinasabi po ng mga kritiko na ‘now is not the right time to do this,’ eh siguro po agree ako, now is not the time. Kasi para sa akin po dapat kahapon pa. Kahapon pa dapat natin ginawa ang pag-lift ng restrictive economic provisions. Tayo po ay napag-iiwanan na. (If the critics are saying that ‘now is not the right time to do this,’ I think I agree, now is not the time. Because we should have done this yesterday. We should have long lifted the restrictive economic provisions. We have been left behind),” she said in the same hearing.
“The lifting of the economic restrictions is a necessary first step. We owe this to our countrymen,” added the economist-solon.
Another majority congressman, KABAYAN Party-List Rep. Ron Salo also noted the seemingly cyclic criticism whenever the topic of Cha-Cha–in this case one centered on economic changes–is brought up in Congress.
“Ang tanong ko lang noon, kailan siya exactly napapanahon na pag-usapan kung every time na bubuksan natin ang pag-uusap tungkol dito, ang sagot na kaagad ay ‘hindi napapanahon?’ (My question is, when exactly is the proper time to discuss this if every time we open up the discussions, the instant response is, ‘it’s not timely?’)?” he asked.
“It is always timely to do the right thing, and the right thing is to prepare our economy to undertake all these proposed amendments. And at the end of the day it would be decided by the people,” Salo said.