Lawmaker: Cha-cha may pass if limited to lifting foreign ownership restrictions

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 10) — Amendments to the Constitution can pass the 18th Congress if these are limited to lifting restrictions on foreign ownership, a lawmaker said Wednesday

“When it comes to piecemeal amendments in the Constitution, primarily to address the economic restraint, economic provisions, pwede ho siguro [maybe it can be passed,]” AKO BICOL party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

Garbin said this on the heels of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fresh call for Charter change to avert a possible coup d’état as the military is supposedly getting fed up with corruption in government.

It is unclear what changes to the Constitution are being proposed to solve corruption, drugs, terrorism and other problems supposedly raised by the military. But, responding to queries about this, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said this could include the removal of restrictions to foreign investments and the solution to traffic congestion on EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue).

Duterte had earlier signalled that he is fine with limiting constitutional changes to the economic provisions, even if he had campaigned for a shift to a federal form of government.

Garbin and Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said this can be done by simply adding the phrase “by law” to economic provisions of the Constitution, allowing Congress to amend laws regulating foreign equity as needed.

Salceda said the country's rules on foreign equity should be at par with its neighbors, like Thailand, where it is possible to have a business fully-owned by foreigners.

Presently, Filipinos need to have at least a 60 percent stake in a corporation that operates a public utility, while foreigners can only own up to 40 percent.

However, full foreign participation in the following businesses was allowed under an executive order signed by Duterte in October:

- Internet businesses

- Teaching in higher education levels, excluding professional subjects

- Skills training centers for subjects that are not a part of the educational system

- Adjustment companies

- Lending companies

- Financing companies

- Investment houses

- Wellness centers

Moves to amend the Constitution have been persistent under Duterte, who even formed a consultative committee to propose amendments to the charter.

The House of Representatives, dominated by Duterte's allies, has been responsive to his plea, having passed a resolution calling on Congress to convene into a constituent assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution.

However, this lost steam at the Senate, whose 23 members opposed getting outnumbered by around 300 congressmen should they vote jointly.

Some senators have also expressed openness to amending the Constitution to give more leeway to foreign equity.