Lawmakers, experts split over economic Cha-cha in House debate

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 13) — Some lawmakers and economists agreed in a House hearing that it is high time for a legislative measure to lift the "restrictive" economic provisions of the Constitution, but for others, the country is just not ready for another "Cha-cha" in the middle of the pandemic.

During the first day of deliberations of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Resolution of Both Houses 2, congressmen and resource persons were split over its aim to ease limits on foreign ownership of lands, educational institutions, public utilities, and mass media firms.

The measure filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco includes the phrase "unless otherwise provided by the law" to certain provisions on national patrimony and economy, education, science and technology, arts, culture and sports, and general provisions of the charter.

According to panel chair Alfredo Garbin of AKO-Bicol Party-list, the measure "will improve the investment climate and generate much needed investments and jobs to counteract the economic contraction caused by the pandemic."

For former National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Ernesto Pernia, while the economy has been "clobbered by the pandemic," its recovery needs to be accelerated. He added that the Philippines needs to compete with its ASEAN neighbors.

"We really cannot be competitive with our ASEAN neighbors, much less in the global economy, if we do not open the economy. That is why easing or lifting the provisions on foreign participation in the constitution is critical," he said.

For UP School of Economics Professor Emeritus Raul Fabella, the country should also focus on investing in itself, before opening the economy to others.

"If we are not investing more of ourselves, I don't see why foreign investors will do so," he said. However, he noted that citizenship is not a condition to whoever can make the economy flourish.

Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya also said 1,489 mayors across the country have expressed their support for "surgical" amendments to the constitution. These local executives, who are members of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, crafted a resolution to show their support, he added.

Some 555,610 signatures of Filipinos who support the same purpose were also submitted by Malaya to the House panel. He said these were collected from 72 of 81 provinces across the country through roadshows.

"If not because of the pandemic, I think we would have reached more than a million signatures," he noted. "Considering the number of signatures that we have secured given the limited time before the pandemic, I think there is strong public support for the surgical amendments."

But for IBON Executive Director Rosario Guzman, instead of an economic Cha-cha, the government should instead create a more aggressive fiscal stimulus to address its current economic problems, as "vastly growing foreign investment has not been contributing to the country's economic progress" even before the pandemic hit.

RBH 2 seeks to amend the Constitution by exercising the powers of Congress as a constituent assembly. The measure cited Article 17, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, which states that any amendment to the charter may be proposed by Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members.

Velasco said the House and Senate can tackle the proposed amendments separately in the exercise of their constituent functions.