House OKs ‘economic cha-cha’ amid pandemic concerns
MANILA, Philippines — Despite concerns about its timeliness in light of the country’s ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the House of Representatives adopted the proposed economic charter amendment on final reading (Cha-cha).
The lower house adopted Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2 on Tuesday with 251 affirmative votes, 21 negative votes, and two abstentions. The resolution seeks to revise the 1987 Constitution’s “restrictive” economic measures.
The resolution passed with the needed 3/4 vote of the entire House.
The phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” would be added to the constitutional restrictions that limit foreign investors’ participation in the governing body of entities based on their proportionate share of the capital under Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, authored by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.
The same language would also be added to laws stating that only Filipino people have the right to control, own, and/or lease public utilities, educational institutions, mass media enterprises, and advertising firms in the country.
Legislators could use this to facilitate foreign participation in the Philippines.
‘Most dangerous, shameless cha-cha in history’
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, who voted against the resolution, said the push for economic cha-cha is “is not only out of tune from the current exigencies of the times but also patently dangerous to the interests and welfare of Filipino women and the people.”
“We hate to say this, Mr. Speaker, but this is the most dangerous and most shameless Chacha in Philippine history. Ito ang natatanging Chacha na ginagawang prayoridad sa gitna ng pandemya at pagdurusa ng kababaihan mamamayan para paburan ang dayuhang kapital,” Brosas said.
Brosas likewise questioned the push to ease foreign equity restrictions in the economic provisions in the Constitution at a time when China, the lawmaker said, is posing to occupy the telecommunications, power, and oil sector in the country.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, meanwhile, said that the charter initiative is “defective in form and deficient in substance,” as he questioned the process followed by House in pushing for cha-cha.
“It is also deficient in substance because the proposed amendment reading ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ will allow the Congress to amend the Constitution with unlimited discretion by legislation on the details of liberalizing the economic restrictions in the Constitution,” Lagman said.
“The contingent legislation does not give the people at the time of the ratification of the proposed amendments on the metes and bounds of the substantial amendments to the Constitution which will be effected by Congress through ordinary legislation,” he added.
Lagman said that the resolution “should be given a decent burial, instead of being resuscitated and approved on third and final reading.”
But AAMBIS-OWA Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin, who chairs the House committee on economic affairs, said that easing foreign restrictions in the Constitution can boost the country’s performance and competitiveness.
“This economic reform can generate more jobs, improve the quality of the human resource, and foster sustainable economic growth,” Garin said.
“As legislators, it is our role [to] create a productive business environment for investors that, in return, is expected to translate to more employment opportunities for Filipinos. We need new capital, ideas, and technology as we tread the road toward economic resiliency. I do not believe that this will be a threat to our patrimony. I think this will improve the lives of all Filipinos,” the lawmaker added.
As critics questioned the timing of the resolution, especially in light of the general coronavirus pandemic, the House approved the measure.
For instance, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate earlier said the House “should prioritize its immediate
response [to] the economic and health crisis that the Filipino people are facing every day” instead of amending the Constitution.
“Cha-cha now is very ill-timed, especially with the pandemic and our economy in shambles. If Cha-cha
pushes through now, then foreigners would have a heyday gobbling up wholesale what is left in our already much-liberalized economy,” Zarate said.
The Cha-cha critics are also worried that it will include political provisions like term extensions for lawmakers.
Nevertheless, panel chair Alfredo Garbin Jr. continued to assure that the proposed amendment would only address the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution.
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