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Aquino: No to Charter change

President Aquino. FILE PHOTO

President Aquino has a ready answer for those tirelessly reviving Charter change (Cha-cha) at every opportunity: No.

Aquino thumbed down Cha-cha anew, noting that the recurrent attempt to change the Constitution had since become a periodic undertaking by congressional leaders under the present dispensation.

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“(M)y stand has been public for the longest time,” Aquino said in an ambush interview with reporters following his speech at the anniversary of the Philippine Navy in Fort San Felipe, Cavite province.

“I don’t think they (economic restrictions) are a necessary detriment to getting foreign investors in this country,” the President replied when asked about the renewed pitch of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., his close ally and Liberal Party stalwart, to amend the Constitution to attract foreign capital.

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Cha-cha has the support of a number of senators, while various foreign chambers of commerce are seeking the lifting of restrictions on equity investments.

Seven out of the 12 newly elected senators have expressed their support for Cha-cha for different reasons and in varying degrees.

Those who indicated support for Charter change in their responses to a question from Inquirer’s Talk of the Town section were Senators-elect Juan Edgardo Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano, Aquilino Pimentel III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Cynthia Villar, JV Ejercito and Gregorio Honasan.

Villar said she was “OK with Cha-cha” but added “it should not be a priority.”

Several incumbent senators like Ralph Recto, Senate Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile are also in favor of Cha-cha.

But Sen. Franklin Drilon, campaign manager of the victorious Team PNoy senatorial ticket, is opposed to Cha-cha.

“At this time, a debate on Charter change will divert our attention from more pressing concerns to provide jobs to our people, improve our economy and expand social services,” said Drilon, who is expected to head the Senate.

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Order to attract capital

Instead of Cha-cha, the President has other things in mind to attract more investments.

To ensure the ease of doing business in the country, Aquino signed an administrative order for the creation of an interagency task force that will implement reforms in the business sector.

In a statement, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said on Monday that Aquino had signed Administrative Order No. 38 ordering the creation of Task Force on Ease of Doing Business (EODB Task Force) “in a bid to boost the country’s competitiveness ranking in the world and improve the business climate in the country.”

“The EODB Task Force is seen to significantly help improve our ranking in the survey since it is tasked to ensure the full implementation of the Gameplan for Competitiveness designed by the National Competitiveness Council  and endorsed by the Economic Development Cluster,” Ochoa said.

The Philippines ranks 138th out of 185 countries and is 8th in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Doing Business Survey of the World Bank’s International Finance Corp.

Foreign chambers

The Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines is in favor of  modifying the “negative” list of investment areas that are off limits to foreigners under the Foreign Investments Act.

The group has called for the creation of an interagency committee to review “various restrictions on foreign equity investment … taking into account consideration whether restrictions impeded investments, job creation and competitiveness.”

It said a report with specific proposed amendments could be ready by the time the 16th Congress is convened.

Restrictions not detrimental

The President reiterated that restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution ratified under his mother’s presidency were  “not detriment[al] to getting foreign investors in this country.”

He was particularly referring to the provision in the Constitution that restricts to 40 percent foreign ownership of public utilities.

The President cited the case of China, whose economy has accelerated and is predicted to overtake the United States in a few years, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Ownership of land

Referring to “ownership of land as one of the economic  provisions” being targeted by Cha-cha proponents, he said:

“(In) China you lease (land since) you cannot own land. But China’s economy grew by something like close to 10 percent for a decade. So, that, I think, is empirical evidence that suggests, perhaps, that that is not a main determinant.”

The 1987 Constitution bans aliens from owning land in the Philippines.

‘Very low priority’

The President cited a survey among foreign chambers of commerce in the country to demonstrate that the Constitution was not the root of the ills plaguing the Philippines.

“Our earlier studies on that (showed that) various chambers of commerce in the country have indicated a lot of issues, and the so-called economic provisions (were) very low on the priority (scale),” the President said.

What the business community was worrying about were things other than Cha-cha, Aquino said.

“They cited, at the time, the (inefficient) bureaucracy, the peace and order situation, among others, lack of infrastructure,” he said.

Resurrected

Moves to tinker with the Constitution were again resurrected by Speaker Belmonte on Monday, who repeated his argument for the nth time that the Charter’s restrictive economic provisions were driving away potential foreign investors and thus hampering economic growth.

Belmonte and other congressional leaders have been making a pitch for Cha-cha every chance they got, particularly ahead of the opening of every session of Congress.

Two weeks before the President was to face Congress to deliver his annual State of the Nation Address in July 2012, Belmonte teamed up with Enrile in rallying support for Cha-cha.

Enrile saw Cha-cha as a chance to facilitate increased military spending of the government amid Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

Malacañang quickly responded by declaring that Cha-cha was not a priority of the Aquino administration.

Unperturbed, the duo even sought an audience with the President in Malacañang.

Closed-door meeting

At the closed-door meeting on July 30 last year, Belmonte and Enrile were politely rebuffed by the President.

“I stated my opposition, but we agreed to have the underlying basis studied by the economic and legal clusters [of the Cabinet and] with private sector participation, upon the suggestion of both the Senate President and the Speaker,” Aquino said.

Until now, it was unclear whether the study pushed through.

Unprecedented growth

“In the past three years, we achieved unprecedented growth through good governance,” Drilon said, indicating the needlessness of tackling Charter change in the 16th Congress.

“No need for Cha-cha yet. We are achieving economic gains without it,” said another senator in the next Congress, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, a member of the administration Liberal Party like Drilon.

Only economic provisions

In his speech when the Senate opened its third regular session in the 15th Congress in July last year, Enrile said: “We seek to amend only certain economic provisions therein such that there will be more flexibility in the ownership of certain industries particularly those that are involved in exploration, development and utilization of our natural resources.”

Enrile is one of the three leaders of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance and the leader of the Senate’s “macho” bloc to which Estrada and Sotto belong.

“Only (for) the economic provisions,” Estrada said in a text message when asked if he was in favor of Cha-cha.

Sotto was pushing for a line amendment that would encompass “especially the economic provisions.”

Citing the suggestion of a Supreme Court justice that he didn’t name, Sotto proposed that Congress be given the power to amend any economic provision in the Constitution. “Insert the clause ‘as may be provided by Congress,’” he said.

“There’s also a check and balance there because the President can veto the amendment if he doesn’t think it is right,” Sotto added.

Mixed reactions

The proposed Cha-cha drew mixed reactions from Catholic Church leaders in the Visayas.

Msgr. Esteban Binghay, Cebu Archdiocese Episcopal Vicar, believes that there is a need to change the Constitution now to “adjust to the present needs” and address the problems on election and political dynasties.

“The election every three years is very expensive which is why it would be better if the local and national elections would be held in one election, every six years. Cha-cha could also change the ambiguous definition of political dynasties in the Constitution,” he told the Inquirer.

Fr. Amadeo Alvero, spokesman of the Archdiocese of Palo in Leyte province, said he would support Cha-cha if it would focus on  amending economic provisions, not the lifting of term limits.

But Msgr. Achilles Dakay,  media liaison officer of the Archdiocese of Cebu, said the country needed to “implement the good provisions of the Constitution first” before changing it.

Bishop Emmanuel Trance of the Diocese of Catarman, said he did not favor Cha-cha.

Msgr. Meliton Oso, social action director of the Archdiocese of Jaro in Iloilo, said extensive public discussions on the need for constitutional changes should be held before Congress initiates any amendments.—With reports from Charisse Ursal, Joey Gabieta, Nestor Burgos Jr. and Rachel Arnaiz, Inquirer Visayas

Originally posted: 12:53 pm | Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino, Benigno Aquino III, Charter change, Charter change (Cha-cha), Conbress, Constitution, Laws, Philippines, Politics
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