If the intial attempt was like playing with fire, the latest proposal put forward to amend the Constitution is “like burning down the house,” anti-Charter change (Cha-cha) lawmakers warned on Friday.
It will be a “total sellout of our country and must be stopped,” said party-list House members Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna).
The militant party-list members were referring to the bill filed the other day by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez calling for the convening of a constitutional convention (con-con) to carry out the amendments.
“If Representative Belmonte’s proposal of Charter change through legislation is like playing with fire, Representative Rodriguez’s constitutional convention proposal is like burning the house down,” Colmenares said in a statement.
Earlier this week, Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. filed a resolution that could pave the way for the passage of new laws lifting the economic restrictions in the Constitution.
The Belmonte resolution proposes to insert the phrase, “unless otherwise provided by law,” to each economic provision, and thus allow Congress the freedom to pass new laws that would relax these restrictions.
Zarate said the Rodriguez’s proposal to call a con-con goes even further, calling it nothing less than “an all-out assault to change not just the economic provisions of the Constitution but its political provisions as well”.
The con-con proposal is a “blatant attempt to entice elected officials with term extensions,” he said.
Among the proposed amendments in the Rodriguez proposal is the one proposing to give members of parliament and local officials a four-year term with no limit to the number of times they can be reelected.
The Cagayan de Oro congressman called for a shift to a federal system and a parliamentary form of government with a unicameral legislature.
Nationality requirements out
Rodriguez wants to lift “all nationality requirements in the exploration and utilization of all natural resources, all areas of investments, all public utilities, all educational institutions, and all fields of mass media and advertising.”
“The provisions on ownership of land which shall remain exclusively to Filipinos until distribution of farms lots to qualified farmers/beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program is completed,” Rodriguez said in the explanatory note to his proposed Constitutional Convention Act of 2013.
“In the light of expanding global demands and the present economic and political realities, there is a most urgent need to address economic and political areas which have been widely recognized as prime sources of the nation’s difficulties,” he wrote.
Rodriguez’s arguments were dismissed by Zarate who maintained that “changing the Constitution and letting foreigners have total control of our national patrimony is not the answer in solving hunger, corruption or political patronage in the country.”
“In fact, foreign companies are already exploiting Philippine natural resources, as in the case of mining, even with restrictions on ownership and investment. By tinkering now with the Constitution it may worsen the current situation,” he said.
Aquino stance unchanged
Malacañang on Friday said it would not try to stop administration allies in the House of Representatives from pushing for Cha-cha but reminded them that President Aquino’s stance opposing it remained unchanged.
“Our lawmakers are free to push for any initiative under the law, or what we call their advocacies,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told a Palace briefing.
Besides, the new campaign for constitutional amendments has not yet reached a stage where the executive department would be in a position to stop it, she said.
“The position of the President has not changed,” said Valte while acknowledging that Mr. Aquino and his House allies have “divergent positions” on the matter.
The President has repeatedly declared that removing the restrictive economic provisions in the Charter is unnecessary. He disagreed with the view that certain economic provisions, including the limit on foreign ownership of land, were discouraging foreign direct investments.
Colmenares was unconvinced that Mr. Aquino really did not want Cha-cha.
“It’s just posturing,” he said in a text message.
“It is unlikely for President Aquino to directly oppose Cha-cha because he actually agrees with the very policies espoused by Cha-cha proponents. In fact he is already implementing these anti-Filipino policies that favor foreign investors,” he said.
“He’s just afraid of the people’s wrath that’s why he is posturing that he is against it,” Colmenares said.
At least one newbie senator seems to appreciate Mr. Aquino’s anti-Cha-cha stance.
“Didn’t President Noynoy [Aquino] already say that this is not a priority? For me, I would rather take my cue from the President,” Sen. Nancy Binay told reporters on Friday.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, the acting Senate President, said proponents of Cha-cha should confine themselves to the economic provisions and leave the political provisions, particularly those pertaining to term limits, alone.
“Let’s not touch the present system of government. Let them tackle just the economic provisions,” Estrada said in an interview earlier this week.
He said proposing changes to the political provisions such as on term limits could “turn off the people” and “make the issue complicated.”
CBCP advises caution
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Friday said that while many provisions in the Constitution needed to be amended, the government must still be very careful in pursuing Cha-cha.
In an interview through CBCPNews, the organization’s official news service, CBCP president Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma said the bishops’ stand on the matter was for the government to spend more time to study the move.
“Even before, we recognized that there were provisions that should be amended, yet it’s not just a matter of changing them because we already have good laws. It’s just a question of implementing the laws that we have,” Palma said.
“Without denying there are also provisions in the Constitution that need to be changed and yet as we always say, we should be extra cautious and I think we need more time to study it,” he said.
Palma also pointed out that amending the Constitution would surely entail a lot of expense.
“The other dimension to this is also the money involved because there might be other important things that the government should spend on rather than for the purposes of Charter change,” he said. With TJ Burgonio, Norman Bordadora and Jocelyn R. Uy