More businesses resist Cha-cha for bad timing
This undated photo shows the Batasang Pambansa, the session hall of the Philippines' House of Representatives in Quezon City
AFP/Ted Aljibe

More businesses resist Cha-cha for bad timing

Prinz Magtulis (Philstar.com) - January 22, 2021 - 1:53pm

MANILA, Philippines — Seven more business groups are resisting ongoing efforts of President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies at the Lower House to amend the Constitution, 16 months before the elections.

“We believe that introducing any charter change…before presidential elections will only raise fears that other constitutional changes, some of which may be highly controversial, may be introduced and passed,” the groups said in a joint statement on Friday.

Ten groups signed the statement, but three of them namely the Makati Business Club, Financial Executives of the Philippines and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, had already voiced opposition to revisiting the 33-year-old charter at this time.

The other seven in the latest statement were the Investment House Association of the Philippines, Filipina CEO Circle, Judicial Reform Initiative, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Retailers Association, Philippine Women’s Economic Network and Women’s Business Council of the Philippines.

Timing is the main issue of businesspeople for disapproving charter change, which they also recognize is bound to grant their long-standing appeal to remove foreign ownership restrictions in some industries if it succeeds. Under the present charter ratified in 1987, foreign investors may only own up to 40% of public utilities, retail, media, and some mining activities, among others.

While the House leadership tried to assure the public that only economic provisions would be touched, persistent suspicions by majority of Filipinos that public officials are out to perpetuate themselves in power have resurfaced. The Senate, whose vote is crucial for Cha-cha to succeed, also has reservations about tinkering with the Constitution at this time.

Businesses made it clear that they still “support initiatives to liberalize” the economy, seconding present and former economic managers, but they stressed doing so at the time of the pandemic will be “highly divisive.”

Instead, they urged the House of Representatives where the efforts emanated, to let Cha-cha be a 2022 election issue that potential candidates for public office can present before the voters and let the new set of leaders tackle them. “We instead urge (them)…to commit to initiate steps for the adoption of such provisions within the first 12 months of their term,” the business groups said. 

The health crisis itself had been used to justify the current charter change push by no less than House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco that revived the 2019 proposal. He had said dismantling current foreign limitations would help the Philippines attract more foreign investments that can contribute to economic recovery.

Foreign direct investments likely slumped for the third straight year in 2020, central bank data showed.

But for businesses, pending bills should take care of reopening some portion of the economy in the meantime. They cited amendments to the Public Service Act, currently pending before a Senate committee, which would exactly remove foreign investment prohibitions in some sectors by declassifying them as “public utilities.” 

“The undersigned business associations call on government to maintain its focus on safe economic recovery,” they said.

Should charter change deliberations proceed and hurdle Congress, changes would also need to pass a plebiscite where a simple majority of Filipinos should vote to approve the amendments. The Commission on Elections had repeatedly said time has run out to organize a plebiscite, even if held simultaneous with the 2022 polls, as Velasco had suggested.

Duterte, meanwhile, has repeatedly denied he is out to extend his single 6-year term that ends in June 2022.

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