Enough time to amend the Constitution – House leaders

Published January 16, 2021, 4:56 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

Leaders of the House of Representatives expressed confidence Saturday that there is enough time to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution. 

“This time it is different – pure economic provisions. So I am convinced we can hack it,” House Ways and Means panel chairman Albay  Rep.  Joey Sarte Salceda said in a Viber message after Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said time is running out for efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution. 

Lopez had earlier said they have nothing against the House’s move, but they were worried that given the limited time, the bid to revise the 34-year old Charter may not push though 

Salceda cited that last week’s signing of manifesto of support by leaders of eight major political parties and blocs in the House of Representatives to rally behind Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 signifies the House’s resolve to push through the economic Charter change. 

“I think the demonstration shows that we will get it done in this House. Now, the Senate is another matter, but there is a Duterte supermajority there, too. Even if the procedural rule is for both houses to vote separately, we can get it done,” the House leader said in a separate statement. 

“There is time for this. January is too early a time to be thinking of the filing of CoCs in October. Even then, should government ever stop governing two years before an election? We are just halfway through our three-year terms as members of Congress. We’re still on the right time,” he added. 

Marikina City  Rep.  Stella Quimbo agreed with Salceda’s observations. “The economic evidence on the benefits of a more open and competitive economy is robust. And our top economists and economic managers have spoken in favor of lifting the restrictive provisions,” the House Deputy Minority Leader said.

“The urgent need to create more jobs through foreign investments is also recognized by many members of Congress. Party leaders have expressed their support for Speaker Velasco’s resolution. So I am optimistic that debates on the matter will not be protracted.”

Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo said it is still “premature” for Lopez to tell that Congress may be running out of time to amend the Charter.

“The amendment to the economic provision is so important that we should try our best to have it done.  It would jumpstart our economy so critical at this time of pandemic that we should exert all our effort to deliver it to its successful conclusion,” the House Assistant Majority Leader said.

Masbate  Rep.  Elisa “Olga” Kho, chairperson of the House Committee on Rural Development, and Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga  also disagreed with Lopez, saying that there is “enough time” to amend the Charter.

“With the cooperation of everyone, we can do it,” Kho said.

 Reacting to Lopez’s preference for legislative reforms over constitutional amendments, Salceda explained that “the law can only be changed to a limited extent.”

 “We have our hands tied. The House has already moved with the amendments to the Public Service Act, the Foreign Investment Act, and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act. They will open us up for foreign investment significantly. However, even after such changes, we will still remain among the most restrictive to investments in the region because we cannot escape constitutional restrictions on foreign equity,” he said.

 “I think the idea that we should just focus on legislative changes gets the root of the problem wrong. The Constitution bound the future generations to restrictions that were always destined to prove highly impractical. It delved into details that were no longer fundamental. Foreign equity restrictions are not basic principles. The charter should not have precluded future generations from these crucial decisions,” the House’s chief tax policymaker explained. 

 Salceda maintained that Velasco’s resolution contains “absolutely no political change, and is laser-focused on economic reform alone.”

 “Frankly, the President is in a very strong position to choose his successor, so there is no incentive for political Charter change. Changing the 1987 Constitution was considered in the past by Presidents who wanted to secure their term in office because they could not choose their own successors. That’s not the case now,” he said.

 “What’s happening now is you have a reform-minded Speaker who wants to modernize the country’s policies.”