Lopez: Pass economic bills, not cha-cha

Published January 16, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Elisor Recide

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez preferred the passage of pending economic bills that will open certain domestic industries to majority foreign ownership rather than tinkering the Constitution or charter change (cha-cha).

At the “Laging Handa” briefing, Lopez explained that as a matter of principle the DTI has always been in favor of opening the economy and liberalizing the restrictions on foreign participation in some industries, but he cited some constraints to the proposal to open the economy by amending the economic provisions of the Constitution.

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez. (ALFRED FRIAS/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO FILE PHOTO)

For one, he said there are many reservations in the proposed revisions of the economic provisions of the organic law of the country.  

He also cited the limited time left for the current administration to effect a charter change, which is being pushed by the Lower House.

Instead of amending the Constitution to open the economy, Lopez said “We can do with the pending bills that seek to remove the restrictions in many sectors.” He noted that the pending bills can effectively open these economic sectors that are still restricted to majority foreign ownership.

As such, he urged Congress to devote the remaining last months of the Duterte administration to pass these bills.

This was also the position of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), known as “The Voice of Philippine Business.”

PCCI President Amb. Benedicto V. Yujuico pointed to the economic reform bills that the Duterte administration must prioritize but have remained pending.

“There are other bills pending in Congress that will open certain doors to the economy that the Constitution has kept locked against the entry of foreign investors,” said PCCI, known as the “Voice of Philippine business.”

Among these is the Public Service Act Amendment, which has been approved by the House of Representatives and is pending at the Senate Committee on Public Services. The bill lifts limitations on foreign equity ownership on some sectors currently classified as public utility.  These include telecommunications and transport.  It limits public utility to 3 sectors: distribution of electricity; transmission of electricity and water pipeline distribution system or sewerage pipeline.  PCCI is hoping these bills to be enacted before the end of the 18th Congress.

PCCI was also cautious at the timing and manner by which the Constitution is being proposed to be amended.

“While it may be the fastest option, inserting the provision ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ in sections of the Constitution that limit foreign equity to 40% in business ventures that are considered of critical interest to the Filipino people, could potentially weaken the country’s highest law by making it easier for ordinary legislation to amend the Constitution,” Yujuico explained.

The Makati Business Club (MBC) has also opposed the move and questioned the timing of the proposal as it comes a year before the presidential elections middle of 2022.

“We continue to support this initiative but we believe that introducing any charter change fifteen months before presidential elections will only raise fears that other constitutional changes, some of which may be highly controversial, may be introduced and passed,” MBC said in a statement.

Thus, MBC said, any attempt at Charter Change now will be highly divisive at a time when our country still needs to be totally united in our efforts to overcome the ill effects of the pandemic. MBC instead urged all major presidential and congressional candidates in the coming 2022 elections to express their support for the relaxation of restrictive economic provisions in our Constitution and commit to initiate steps for the adoption of such provisions within the first 12 months of their term.