Why many are leery about  Charter change

Published January 21, 2021, 12:51 AM

by Manila Bulletin

There seems to be wide agreement about the need  to  open the country’s economy to  greater foreign investment. But the private business sector along with  some government economic officials are for  doing this via  several  pending economic bills, while the country’s politicians are   for  amending the Philippine Constitution to do it.

The Philippine   Chamber of Commerce and Industry, generally known as the voice of Philippine  business,  said there are already  several pending economic reform bills in Congress. There is the Public Service Amendment, already approved by the House of Representatives and  now  pending  in the Senate Committee on Public Services,   which would lift limitations on foreign equity ownership in some sectors currently classified as public utilities, including telecommunications and transport. It would limit the term “public utility” to three sectors – distribution of electricity, transmission of electricity, and water distribution and sewage pipelines.

The Financial Executives of the Philippines Institute  (FINEX) said the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE)  bill has been pending for  months in  Congress, along with the Government Financial  Institutions Unified Initiatives for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) bill. Fifty-two organizations have issued statements calling for enactment  of  the  CREATE bill.

The FINEX  also  cited the  Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer   (FIST) bill which was approve d  by Congress  before the Christmas break and called on President  Duterte  to immediately sign it.

The Makati Business Club, the Management Association of the Philippines,  and  several other business groups have similarly expressed  their support for these  economic reform bills. But members of Congress are calling instead for amending the Constitution to achieve the same goals.

At a recent  briefing,  Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)  Ramon M. Lopez said that as a matter of principle, the DTI has always been for liberalizing  the restrictions  on foreign participation  in  some industries through various laws,  but  there  is a growing move among  members of  Congress to achieve this  via constitutional  amendments instead.

There  is a some concern, however, that if senators and congressmen start  amending the  Constitution, they will also amend current provisions limiting their  terms in office.  Senators  are now limited to two consecutive  six-year terms, while congressmen are limited  to  three consecutive three-year terms.  The president and vice president are banned from any reelection.  Should they succeed in making any  change in the Constitution, these  would  be  submitted in one bundle to the people in a plebiscite.

Would it be possible to have separate voting on each  amendment? The people  might approve of the economic changes, but might not go along with other changes, such as allowing unlimited reelection to office. With such an arrangement, the current resistance to amending the Constitution via Constituent Assembly might not be as persistent as it is today.