Despite widespread opposition to any move to amend the Constitution at this time when the country is mired in problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the House of Representatives planned to resume debates on the issue this week.
The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments had earlier voted overwhelmingly – 64-3-3 — to adopt Resolution of Both Houses 2 (RHB2) to amend certain provisions of the Constitution to allow Congress to enact laws to allow foreign investments in certain parts of the national economy now closed to foreigners.
One reason for opposition to the move, as expressed by Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and Rep. LRay Villafuerte, is that now is not the time to “tinker” with Constitution, when the country is still grappling with the pandemic.
Another reason, aired by Rep. Mike Defensor, is that the House leadership should first confer with the
Senate on whether the two chambers need to convene in joint session or vote separately on proposed amendments. “It takes two to cha-cha,” he said. “Unless the House convinces the Senate to go on board its Cha-Cha express, the House would just be wasting precious time, effort, and taxpayers’ money.”
It would indeed be useless if the House approves a Charter resolution, but it would be ignored by the Senate. Many senators have long rejected moves for Charter change in the past, especially the move for a joint session in which the 24 senators would be swept aside by a big majority of 307 congressmen.
But perhaps the greatest opposition to charter change by Congress –- rather than by a specially elected Constitutional Convention — is the suspicion that many officials want to remove the present Constitution’s limitations on the number of years they may serve. Congressmen as well as local officials are now allowed only three three-year terms, while senators are allowed only two six-year terms. Local officials may also serve up to three three-year terms. The President and Vice President serve for six years without reelection.
In a Charter change by the House and the Senate meeting and voting separately, there would be open public discussions on amending the economic provisions. But it is feared a provision on removing the present term limits may come up in the final resolution.
The present 1987 Constitution was drawn up by a Constitutional Convention after the 1986 people’s movement that ended 20 years of Marcos rule, nine of which were under martial law. This may explain the limitations the convention placed on terms of office.
In the succession of administrations after 1987, there were attempts to amend the Constitution, especially its economic provisions, as each one neared the end of its term. But because of public suspicions, none of the moves made much progress.
It may indeed be time to amend these limitations on foreign investments. And it may also be time to allow capable and tested officials to serve longer in office. But the move will have to contend with these long-standing suspicions and fears that undeserving officials will stay in office longer than they should because of their political machinery.