Allies back Belmonte on Charter change
MANILA, Philippines—House allies of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on Thursday said they were endorsing his push for charter change (Cha-cha) despite the absence of categorical support from President Aquino, and they believed the idea of amending the economic provisions of the Constitution would eventually gain acceptance and support.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga and Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas commended Belmonte for his proposal, saying the Charter’s economic provisions have to go in keeping with current economic realities.
Treñas said many House colleagues favored the proposal, even if Aquino was not receptive to it.
Speaker has spoken
“I think that many of us in the House of Representatives are really for charter change. Others are not just that vocal but now that no less than our Speaker has spoken, I think more congressmen will voice their support for [Belmonte’s] position on the issue,” he said.
At the Senate, Senate President Franklin Drilon on Thursday said he was willing to look into amending the Constitution but added that any attempt to tinker with the basic law would need the support of the President.
“We are open to it. We will see how these debates develop and we will take a position at the appropriate time. There must be consensus among the political leaders because this kind of political exercise must have the support of the unified political leadership,” Drilon told reporters.
He said charter change, to be successful, would need the support of Aquino because “it’s a political exercise.”
1BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, who is from the House minority, warned that any move to amend the economic provisions would open up the entire Constitution to proposed changes.
Bello said he could only be convinced of Belmonte’s charter change idea if he knew the exact purpose and real intent of the proposal.
Belmonte earlier said he only sought to amend the economic provisions of the charter by adding the phrase, “unless otherwise provided by law,” to the constitutional provisions limiting foreign investors’ participation in economic activities in the country.
“If you have charter change, everything goes. You can’t limit it to amending the economic provisions. If you allow it, you open the flood gates,” Bello told reporters.
He said politics would likely enter the picture, as many officials are politically minded.
Barzaga recalled how when he was a city mayor, many investors had complained about the economic restrictions in the Constitution that made it hard to do business in the country.
The investors lamented the difficulties they encountered in trying to acquire land for their manufacturing plants, Barzaga said. He said some of these investors were forced to use dummy corporations to circumvent the constitutional prohibition.
Barzaga said there must be a firm resolve to amend the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution.
“After all, we legislate not on the issue of popularity but on what we think will be best for the country,” he said in a text message.
Treñas believed the President could come around to supporting the idea once Congress begins discussing the merits of correcting the “restrictive and inward-looking economic provisions,” and once it shows that it only intends to focus on this and nothing more.
“As soon as he is convinced that Congress is only interested in revising serious flaws on the Constitution’s economic provisions and nothing else, I am confident that the President’s support will soon follow,” he said.
According to Treñas, there is a need to lift the restrictions on economic policies because other countries that have embraced the reality of how the world conducts business have been overtaking the Philippines.
“Reviewing the Constitution is to keep our basic law attuned to the changing world. A national debate within the halls of Congress on the merits and demerits of amending the Constitution will give our people a better perspective on this particular issue,” he said.
Drilon said it was ultimately up to the Filipino people whether they think it was time to change the Constitution ratified more than 20 years ago under the administration of the President’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.
Up to the people
“At the end of the day, it will depend on the people where in the process of ratification, they themselves will decide whether it is proper at this point to amend the Constitution in the manner as presented by Congress acting as a constitutional assembly,” he said.
Drilon said he had yet to discuss charter change with Belmonte “but the process they are suggesting is the process that I initiated a couple of years ago, that when we propose amendments to the Constitution, it must be in the same manner as we pass laws.”
Under Drilon’s proposal, the Senate and the House of Representatives will deliberate and vote separately on the proposed amendments.
He noted that the Senate had in the past rejected the proposal that senators and representatives convene as a constitutional assembly voting as one, “because you might as well abolish the Senate—the Senate is just 24 against the House’s 270 votes.”
“That is why there is a resistance. But if we vote separately, as separate houses of Congress, then that possibility will not happen,” Drilon said.
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