Congress focus on economic provisions only as RBH7 debates start

By Filane Mikee Cervantes

February 26, 2024, 6:38 pm Updated on February 26, 2024, 7:51 pm

<p><em>(File photo)</em></p>

(File photo)

MANILA – As the Committee of the Whole started its deliberations on Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 7, Speaker Martin Romualdez on Monday assured that Congress is only touching on the constitution’s economic provisions that must be amended to adapt with the changing times.

During his opening speech, Romualdez said all proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution shall focus solely on its economic provisions, stressing that there is "absolutely nothing" in RBH 7 that hovers on any political provision.

“Malinaw po sa ating lahat ang misyon natin ngayon. Baguhin ang ilang economic provisions na pumipigil sa pagpasok ng mga negosyo mula sa ibang bansa. Mga negosyong lilikha ng trabaho at magpapasigla ng ating ekonomiya (It is clear to everyone what our mission is. Amend some economic provisions that hinder the entry of foreign firms, those that will create jobs and boost our economy),” he said.

"Ito lamang ang pakay natin. Ekonomiya, hindi pulitika (That is our only goal. Economy, not politics)."

Romualdez noted that the House's proposal is patterned after the Senate’s RBH No. 6, which would address restrictions on foreign ownership of public utilities, educational institutions, and advertising industries.

He stressed that economic charter changes are of “utmost national concern that will impact not just the present citizens of our great nation, but also the generations to come.”

“The times are changing. We need to adapt if we are to become more competitive globally, invite technological advancement, and provide a more conducive economic platform where people have wider opportunities for growth. We should do it now, lest we risk lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to economic development and productivity,” he said.

He said the amendment proposals are three-pronged: reform the public service sector; open access to the best educational institutions, whether Filipino or foreign-owned; and liberalize the advertising industry.

“Reforming the provisions of the constitution on foreign equity ownership in corporations, including those that operate public services, would further open up the Philippine market, and attract significantly bigger foreign direct investments,” he said.

He said more investments could lead to cheaper and reliable power and electricity, cheaper and faster internet service, and better and modern transport system.

“With better infrastructure, we would be able to encourage more investments, both foreign and domestic, that would create more and high-quality jobs for our people,” he said.

He also pointed out that the restrictive economic provisions affect education, considering that the ownership of educational institutions is limited to Filipino citizens and corporations with 60-percent Filipino ownership.

"The control and administration of educational institutions are currently reserved to Filipinos exclusively,” he said.

He cited that neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore allow 100-percent foreign direct investments (FDI) on higher education, while Thailand allows FDI up to 50 percent and Indonesia up to 49 percent.

“We believe in the competence of our Filipino educators. However, we must admit that Filipinos do not have a monopoly of wisdom and learning. Learning is a process of acquiring and accumulating knowledge, understanding, skills and even behavior. It is best attained by collaboration and exposure to new and different experiences, approaches and perspectives,” he said.

As for the advertising industry, he said foreign equity participation is at 30 percent under the constitution.

“This is a peculiar situation considering that the very concept of advertising is to reach as many and as far as possible. Limiting foreign investments in an industry that is boundless is a point to ponder on for the Committee of the Whole House,” he said.

He said the proposed economic amendments would give policymakers “more flexibility in our economic policies" and be able to compete with other countries for foreign investments by removing the constitutional restrictions and allowing Congress through legislation to set the terms and conditions for foreign investments in vital sectors of the economy.

Romualdez suggested that the Committee of the Whole House invite experts from various fields to be affected by the amendment proposals, resource persons from the private sector and government institutions that have known expertise on corporations, foreign direct investments, the administration’s economic managers, educators, and advertising industry players.

He said the House deliberations would allow the chamber to act with dispatch on this matter, enabling lawmakers to "freely contribute in the discussion of this most important proposal.”

Former President Duterte’s support lauded

Meanwhile, House leaders welcomed former president Rodrigo Duterte's expression of support for the proposal to amend the economic provisions.

“Natutuwa po ako sa pagbabago ng sentimyento ng dating pangulo kasi lang mas magiging maganda po ito kung pati ang mga sumusuporta sa kanya ay sumalamin din sa posisyon ng dating pangulo (I am happy for the change of sentiment of the former President. It would be better if those who support him also reflect on the position of the former President),” Deputy Speaker and Quezon 2nd District Rep. David Suarez said in a press conference.

Taguig 2nd District Rep. Amparo Maria Zamora said Duterte’s support aligns with the goals pursued by previous Congresses and the current 19th Congress.

“That's exactly what we've been saying from the beginning, that we're pushing for charter change just to push for these economic amendments,” she said.

Rizal 4th District Rep. Fidel Nograles also welcomed Duterte's sudden change of stance, calling it timely considering that it’s about time to discuss provisions regarding investments and develop the welfare of the labor sector.

During a prayer rally in Cebu Sunday night, Duterte announced his support for economic constitutional reforms or even changes in the presidential term, provided President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. guarantees he won't seek reelection.

President Marcos has consistently maintained that his administration solely backs economic amendments.

“We just want to get those amendments incorporated into the constitution to improve the chances of investment and upskilling of our people,” Marcos said in a media interview on the sidelines of an event at the Metropolitan Theater in the City of Manila on Feb. 20.

Simultaneous midterm polls, plebiscite possible

Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairperson George Erwin Garcia said it is possible to hold a plebiscite for possible Charter amendments and the 2025 midterm polls simultaneously.

In a message to reporters, Garcia said there would be no additional expenses but they will ask for funds for additional allowance for teachers who will be serving board of election inspectors (BEIs).

“Nagdesign na din po kami ng sample ng balota na merong plebiscite question. Kaya din po ng machines natin kung may ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question sa balota (We have also designed a sample of a ballot that contains a plebiscite question. Our machines can also print ballots with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question),” he said.

Garcia’s statement came after Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri stated that President Ferdinand R. Marcos prefers to have the Charter change plebiscite to coincide with 2025 polls.

“Basta po nakalagay sa Resolution of both Houses kung sakali (As long as it is indicated in the Resolution of both Houses),” Garcia said, when asked if the measure is legal.

He said the question to be asked in the ballots should contain the specific provision of the Constitution that is the subject of amendments.(with reports from Zaldy De Layola and Ferdinand Patinio/PNA)