Drilon, Belmonte: Charter change to lift foreign equity limits | Inquirer News

Drilon, Belmonte: Charter change to lift foreign equity limits

Senate President Franklin Drilon (left) and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.: Allies but biggest opponents of a second term for President Aquino. (Photo by Benhur Arcayan / Malacanang Photo Bureau)

MANILA, Philippines–The biggest opponents of a second term for President Aquino through a constitutional amendment are his principal allies in Congress, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

“I am against term extension,” Belmonte told the Inquirer in a text message on Tuesday.


Drilon told reporters that he and Belmonte agreed to cooperate only on a resolution that would amend the economic provisions of the Constitution, not on the amendment of the Charter’s political provisions.


Belmonte is the main proponent of a pending resolution in the House of Representatives to amend the Constitution solely to lift foreign equity limits in investment areas restricted to Filipinos such as real estate and the media.

President Aquino has refused to endorse Belmonte’s initiative, which made his declaration in a television interview last week that he was open to seeking a second term through constitutional amendments if there was strong enough clamor for him to continue his reforms a surprise.

But Aquino did not say he would work for the amendment of the Constitution during his term or that he would seek a second term.

If he does, he won’t get support from Belmonte, who said the revision of the political provisions of the Constitution was not a priority of the House.

He said he did not even discuss the matter with the President when they met on Monday.

“No. I talked about our priorities, particularly the budget, [the proposed] Bangsamoro [basic law] and [the] competition policy. We hardly talked about Charter change,” Belmonte said in another text message.


There may be time

Drilon said there may be time for the Senate to handle Belmonte’s resolution, which would amend the Constitution’s economic provision by adding the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law.”

But Drilon was not really sure the Senate could pass the bill within the remaining two years of President Aquino’s term.

“I think we still have time. But that is speculation on my part,” Drilon said.

“Our agreement with Speaker Belmonte is that once they have passed their proposed amendment in the House, we will work on it in the Senate, insofar as the phrase ‘unless otherwise provided by law,’ in the economic provisions of the Constitution,” he said.

The resolution deals only with the economic provisions of the Constitution, and does not include any political provisions.

It is under discussion in the House and is expected to go through a process similar to enacting a law, with both Houses of Congress separately voting on the measure.

A three-fourths vote by each chamber is needed for the resolution to be approved.

Asked about concerns that there would also be efforts to amend the political provisions of the Constitution, Drilon said there were built-in checks and balances in the process.

Just because the House has approved a measure does not mean the Senate will also pass it, he said.

Drilon said the ruling Liberal Party (LP) had no official stand on the talk about amending the Constitution that had been inspired by Aquino’s statements in his TV5 interview.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the party had not reached a consensus about the extension of the President’s term.

Speaking at a press forum on Tuesday, Gonzales denied that party members had met to discuss the extension of Aquino’s term, saying that was only speculation in the media.

“As far as I’m concerned, talks about [amending the political provisions of the Constitution] happen only in the papers,” Gonzales said. “The truth of the matter is there’s no talk, whether official or informal, [in] the LP,” he said.

Not Roxas’ idea

Gonzales also said that it was not true that Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the presumptive but unpopular candidate of the party for president in 2016, first broached the idea of a second term for Aquino and called a meeting of the party for a discussion.

“SB [Belmonte] spoke to Mar, and Mar denied that there was such a meeting. I talked to [Eastern Samar Rep.] Ben Evardone. He said there was no meeting,” Gonzales said.

In a text message to the Inquirer, Evardone, one of party members supporting a second term for Aquino, said there was no formal meeting, but there were talks “on the sidelines.”

Sen. Francis Escudero, another ally of Aquino, said he would block any moves to amend the Constitution, especially proposals to lift term limits.

Escudero said any proposal to amend the Constitution should have been launched in the early days of the Aquino administration so that the effort would be spared intrigue and suspicion that it was intended to benefit only a few.

He said he also did not see any justification for any attempt to clip the powers of the judiciary, one reason that Aquino cited in his television interview as making him reconsider his old opposition to constitutional amendment.

On July 1, the Supreme Court struck down Aquino’s economic stimulus plan, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), angering the President who said the program had helped many poor Filipinos.

Aquino threatened the Supreme Court justices with impeachment, a move that gained immediate support from his allies in the House who lost their pork barrel, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which the court also struck down last year.

Escudero said the 1987 Constitution strengthened the Supreme Court because of the country’s experience during martial law, when dictator Ferdinand Marcos consolidated all governmental powers under the presidency.

Trial balloon

“If we weaken the Supreme Court, there may come a time when we will have an abusive President—and that is not President Aquino—and there will be no more Supreme Court that we can run to,” he said.

Escudero said the talk about extending Aquino’s term beyond 2016 was just a “trial balloon”—a ploy to counter the impression that the President had become a lame duck.

He said he believed Aquino was more than willing to step down at the end of his term in 2016.

“The President and his family have already given their share and more to the country. He deserves to get his own life back, and I think he is looking forward to that day to come in 2016,” Escudero said.

Malacañang insists President Aquino is not pushing for the amendment of the Constitution to lift the presidential term limit, which would allow him to run for a second term.

But Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said on Tuesday the Palace would not stop members of the House from working for amendments now that the President had expressed his openness to it.

Leading the effort is a member of the Liberal Party, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, who claims there is a “strong clamor for the President to continue his reforms through a second term.”

“The legislators have their own process regarding that,” Coloma told reporters. “Let’s just allow that process to proceed according to their wishes.”

Coloma sought to clarify what he called “conclusions” drawn from the President’s pronouncements.

Aquino was roundly criticized by all sectors for flirting with the idea of seeking a second term, which his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, under whose administration the 1987 Constitution was adopted, rejected despite persistent prodding by her supporters.

“That’s why we are clarifying what was mentioned [in the television interview] was not the objective. He was not referring to that,” Coloma said.

But Coloma said Aquino was “not misquoted” and neither was the President “surprised” at how other news organizations reported his statement on TV5.

“All he said was he would listen [to the public] and he wanted to know their sentiments on how his reforms could be continued. That was his clear declaration,” Coloma said.

But Erice is proceeding to prepare a bill that would allow a president to serve a four-year term and run for reelection for a second term of four years, similar to the US presidential term limit.

LP-led coalition ‘solid’

Despite Belmonte’s open defiance of political “Cha-cha”—the legislators’ code word for constitutional amendments—LP members insist that the coalition their party leads in the House remains solid.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said: “I don’t think there is dissension in the ranks. There is no order coming from the President on Cha-cha that has been defied by anyone.”

Erice said: “There is no official LP stand on Charter change. It’s my personal advocacy. Liberalism is about pursuing your advocacy. There are just those who want to divide the party by floating intrigues.”

Evardone said the LP remained “equivocably behind President Aquino’s leadership and his reform agenda.”

He said: “The varied opinions of some party members on the issue of Charter change is a sign of a vibrant, healthy and democratic political party that encourages public discourse on issues affecting national interest. We will continue to engage and consult our party members to come up with a consensus on vital issues that we believe are acceptable and beneficial to the Filipino people.”

Erice, Treñas and Evardone have so far been the most vocal among the Liberals to support the president’s plan to push for the amendment of the Constitution to lift the presidential term limit as well as to bring back the balance of power between the three branches of government by scaling back the Supreme Court’s overreach.

Erice said he would not spoil the plan of Belmonte to fast-track his amendment initiative for economic reforms next week.

But he said he would file his bill for two four-year terms for the president through the normal process at the House committee level.

“We intend to go through the regular process, no fast break moves for us,” Erice said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares called on his colleagues Tuesday to oppose a term extension for Aquino.

“We must defeat the Liberal Party’s self-serving move because it would worsen the already sorry state of the country. The Aquino government should heed the voice of the people and junk Cha-cha,” said Colmenares, the House senior deputy minority leader.

The government, he said, should instead concentrate on “providing more jobs, better social services.”

He added that the Aquino administration should also focus on preventing other looming crises, including power and water shortages.

Opposition from Church

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also opposes the amendment of the Constitution to give Aquino a second term.

On Tuesday, Lucena Bishop Emilio Marquez became the latest Church leader to oppose what he called the “self-serving attempt by top government officials” to amend the Constitution.

“You don’t want to leave after tasting power. That is wrong,” Marquez said during Mass commemorating the 136th birthday of President Manuel L. Quezon at Perez Park in Lucena City, Quezon province.

Without directly referring to President Aquino and his allies, Marquez said there were people who wanted to destroy the country.

“No one has the right to destroy the Supreme Court. No one has the right to clip the powers of [the judiciary]. That is wrong,” Marquez said, a clear reference to Aquino’s complaints about judicial review.–With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and DJ Yap in Manila and Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon



Belmonte goes all out to protect his Charter change resolution

LP to launch Charter change initiative on term limits

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

LP stalwarts deny party caucus on charter change, term extension

TAGS: Economy, Philippines, Politics

© Copyright 1997-2024 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.