Business groups want Congress to vote separately on charter change

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 21) — Local businessmen proposed Sunday Congress should vote separately on constitutional amendments.

In a statement, the Makati Business Club (MBC), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) said the proposed mode of voting is the intention of the framers of the 1987 Constitution.

"We deem it more democratic for the two Houses to vote separately so as to recognize the autonomy of the Senate body and to avoid diluting the voice of our Senators in this critical process," the groups said.

They added the proposed amendments should be presented and discussed with the public before seeking approval through a nationwide plebiscite.

Senators and congressmen are debating on whether they should vote jointly or separately as the Duterte administration pushes for a shift to a federal form of government.

The House of Representatives approved on January 16 a resolution that will allow Congress to convene as a Constituent Assembly and vote jointly, while the Senate is against it.

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On the shift to a new form of government, the groups said they believe a constitutional convention, or con-con, would be the best way to introduce amendments.

A constitutional convention is a separate gathering of duly elected delegates for the purpose of revising the Constitution, which is then voted upon by the people.

"Individuals who wish to be elected for this role can properly present themselves and their views during the campaign period," the businessmen said. 

Critics have slammed suggestions for a "no election" scenario when the process of amending the constitution begins, as this would extend the terms of lawmakers, presenting a conflict of interest.

READ: No election scenario looms amid push for federalism

"While such mode would entail greater costs to implement and probably more time, it should be seen as a justifiable investment that will result to significant social returns in the long run," they said.

Another mode of changing the Constitution is through a constituent assembly where both Houses decide on proposed revisions, which are then presented in a plebiscite.

Amendments on specific provisions only

While the businessmen are for updating the Constitution, they said it should only be for "certain economic provisions."

They added their proposal was aligned with the government's push to lift economic restrictions in the Constitution so that more business areas will be opened to foreign investors.

The provisions pertain to limits placed on foreign investment, participation in the governing bodies of the certain industries, shares in capital, and in the case of educational institutions - enrolment.

The businessmen said revisions in these specific situations would mean a "fresh infusion of financial investments" in sectors that receive little capital; introduce new technology; and promote healthy competition.

They said it could also be beneficial given the country's commitment to the economic community of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.