DTI chief doubts if there’s enough time for Cha-cha
MANILA, Philippines — While members of the House of Representatives struggled to persuade the public that their proposal to amend the Constitution was focused only on economic matters, one of the country’s top economic managers doubted the wisdom of Charter change (Cha-cha) in the last sixteen months of the Duterte administration.
“We have nothing against that, especially if it’s just [an amendment] of an economic provision. We’re just worried that, given [the] limited time and it is almost election again, maybe we’ll run out of time,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Friday.
“But what could be done instead is maybe to [pass] the pending bills that will open up further restrictions so that foreign investors will be encouraged to enter many sectors,” Lopez said at an online press briefing.
“If this could be done by revising a few laws and not necessarily [by] constitutional amendment, we see this as the easier [way] moving forward because when Charter change is discussed, there are many concerns or issues like the ones we see now,” he said.
“We think it is more effective to focus on that now in the last few months of the current administration,” he added.
Lopez’s position echoed that of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Makati Business Club (MBC), which both questioned the timing of moves to open up the economy.
“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,” the MBC said.
“Thus, 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,” the group added.
The PCCI earlier cautioned lawmakers on the proposed move to amend the Constitution, noting that the government should instead focus on economic recovery and building resilience against natural and man-made disasters.
“PCCI supports initiatives to liberalize the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution to enhance the country’s competitive position globally, encourage more foreign direct investments, and address monopolistic, uncompetitive behaviors and underinvestments in some sectors critical to public interest,” said Benedicto Yujuico, PCCI president, on Monday.
“But this should be done in a deliberate and careful manner that will continue to make the Constitution withstand various economic interests, but especially the test of time,” he added.
The House of Representatives revived the Charter change debate after the committee on constitutional amendments asserted that it can declare itself a “constituent assembly” even without the advise and consent of the entire House.
But even if the committee’s chair, Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., manages to have his committee come out with a report that reflects his controversial view, such a report still has to be approved by the entire House.
“I am of the opinion that the deliberations of the House committee on constitutional amendments on [the proposed Resolution of Both Houses No. 2] are preparatory and recommendatory, to endorse the economic amendments to the plenary … acting as constituent assembly,” said Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.