Belmonte refiles bill for Charter change
Outgoing Speaker of the House Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is taking another stab at lifting the longstanding constitutional limits on foreign ownership of land, natural resources, schools, media and public utilities to attract more investments.
After the failure of his Resolution of Both Houses 1 (RBH1) in the 16th Congress, Belmonte has renewed his proposal to amend the 1987 Constitution by removing the caps on the flow of foreign investment into the Philippines.
“In order to realize the full benefit of inclusive growth, the restrictive economic provisions in the Philippine Constitution, which hamper the flow of foreign capital investments, must be lifted,” Belmonte said in filing Resolution of Both Houses 2 (RBH2) last week.
As in the earlier measure, RBH2 would insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” into parts of the Constitution that restrict foreign ownership of land, natural resources, public utilities, schools, and media.
Specifically, these pertain to sections on national patrimony and economy; education; science and technology; arts, culture and sports, and general provisions.
The amendment would not directly allow 100 percent foreign ownership of such resources or assets in industries that are nationalized or exclusive to Filipino citizens, but would instead clear the way for it through legislation.
First bill failed
In the last Congress, RBH1 was passed on second reading but the House leadership opted not to put it to a vote on third reading.
Belmonte later admitted his decision was in deference to then President Benigno Aquino III, who opposed changes to the Constitution, which was framed during the administration of his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.
The House leader also said he was not confident that the measure enjoyed the support of his colleagues.
This time around, Belmonte, a vice chair of the erstwhile ruling Liberal Party (LP), has a hugely diminished influence as he tries to push the measure under a new leadership in the 297-strong chamber.
Belmonte is poised to relinquish the speakership to President Duterte’s close friend and ally, Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, when the 17th Congress opens on July 25.
On Friday, Alvarez filed House Concurrent Resolution Number 1 calling for a constitutional convention (con-con) to amend the Constitution for a shift to a federal system of government.
Belmonte, when asked if the new Speaker would be amenable to his proposal, replied: “Well, if con-con passes, it should not be just federalism, but it should include the economic provisions as well.”
As the leader of the LP in the House, Belmonte’s position in the emerging coalition in the House remains uncertain, as the party’s attempts to negotiate a place in the majority have not progressed.
Many LP members have defected to Duterte and Alvarez’ PDP-Laban Party, whose membership in the House has risen from three to more than 70 in recent weeks.
On the other hand, the remaining LP members have dwindled to 37, according to Marikina Rep. Romero Quimbo, chair of the powerful ways and means committee in the 16th Congress.
One of the defectors from the LP, Iloilo City Rep. Jerry Treñas, said he was personally supportive of Belmonte’s proposal.
“I will try to convince my party mates to support it,” he said in a text message.
Quimbo said he favored Belmonte’s proposal, and believed it would gain traction even among Duterte’s allies in the House.
“Yes. It’s actually one of the main programs of the Duterte administration. We need to open up the economy to other nationalities in the ever globalizing world economy,” he said.
“Aside from federalism, this is the most important constitutional change that is needed,” Quimbo said, arguing that efforts to reduce poverty would not be enough without an increase in foreign direct investments.
Belmonte said statistics showed that despite economic growth, “poverty incidence remained constant for the past six years, thus the need to urgently address the issue.”
“The mandate given to current leaders who advocated for change signifies renewed trust in the government and immense optimism in its ability and commitment to bring about improvement in the quality of life of Filipinos,” he said.
“Growing global interest in Asia provides an opportunity for the Philippines to compete for more investments,” Belmonte said.
Alvarez was noncommittal when asked if he would support Belmonte’s proposal.
In a text message yesterday, Alvarez said he could not say whether he would make Belmonte’s bill a priority in the 17th Congress.
“We’ll see. I have not yet read the bill,” he said.
Incoming Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, president of PDP-Laban, said he had no problem with Belmonte’s proposal to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution.
But he said he did not agree with Belmonte’s proposal that the amendment be done by the House and the Senate voting separately.
Pimentel said he preferred amendment through a constitutional convention, and his and the PDP-Laban’s priority amendment was for a shift to the federal system.
Under RBH2, joint ventures for the exploration, development or use of the country’s natural resources may be made with 60 percent Filipino-owned corporations, “unless provided by law,” meaning the provision may be amended through legislation.
The same clause has been added to other provisions, including those on the lease of alienable land, the operation of public utilities, and ownership and management of media.
Belmonte’s bill would amend Section 2, Article XII on exploration, development, and use of natural resources;
Sec. 3, Art. XII on alienable land of the public domain, including agricultural, forest or timber, mineral land and national parks; Sec. 7, Art. XII on conveyance of private land;
Sec. 10, Art. XII on reserved investments; Sec. 11, Art. XII on grant of franchises, certificates, or any other forms of authorization for the operation of public utility; Sec. 4 (2), Art. XIV on ownership, control and administration of educational institutions; and Sec. 11 (1 and 2), Art. XVI on ownership and management of mass media and on the policy for engagement in the advertising industry. With reports from Gil Cabacungan and Leila B. Salaverria
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