House begins Cha-cha hearings
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives will start today a series of public hearings on the proposal to amend the Constitution to allow Congress to lift restrictions on foreign ownership of land and businesses to bring in more foreign investments.

The committee on constitutional amendments chaired by Davao City Rep. Mylene Albano-Garcia will conduct the two-day public consultations.

Invited to the hearings are proponents of economic Charter change led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

Also invited are constitutionalists Fr. Joaquin Bernas, former Ateneo law dean, and retired Supreme Court justices Adolf Azcuna and Vicente Mendoza.

Invitations were also sent to the Philippine Constitution Association and various business groups supporting economic Cha-cha, including the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, and the American, European, Japanese, Korean, Canadian, and Australia-New Zealand chambers of commerce.

The House committee will give Cha-cha proponents the opportunity to explain their proposal before inviting comments from invited guests.

Belmonte is the principal author of Resolution No. 1, which seeks to introduce the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the economic provisions of the Constitution that contain restrictions on foreign ownership of land and businesses.

He said this would allow Congress to lift such restrictions when needed.

Belmonte expressed belief that lifting such limitations could bring in the kind of foreign investments that would enable the Aquino administration to achieve inclusive growth.

He said there are only a few provisions that would be affected by Cha-cha: those on land ownership, public utilities, mass media, educational institutions and advertising.

In an earlier interview, Belmonte said the House push for economic Cha-cha could be accomplished before Congress ends its first regular session in June.

Rodriguez said he and his group have withdrawn their bill calling for a constitutional convention that would propose sweeping Charter changes that could affect even the Constitution’s political provisions, including those on the form of government and term limits for elective officials.

“We are supporting the resolution of Speaker Belmonte,” he said.

He said he recently met with Aquino to discuss economic Cha-cha.

“He actually is open to the idea. I told him, Mr. President, your administration achieved 7.7 percent economic growth. If we have more foreign investments by opening up certain businesses to full foreign ownership, we can attain at least 10 percent. He was intently listening,” he said.

He added that he informed the President that under the Cha-cha proposal of the House, he would have veto power over any Congress-approved bill that seeks foreign ownership of land or to open up a certain sector of the economy.

“The bill would be sent to him for his signature. If he does not like it, if he does not want foreigners to own land or to open up a certain business, all he has to do is to veto the bill. And with his political following in Congress, the legislature will surely not overturn his veto,” he stressed.

Aquino has remained unconvinced about his congressional allies’ reasons to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution. However, he has not stopped them from proceeding with their initiative.

Resolution No. 1 will go to the Senate if approved by the House. Once passed by the two chambers, the Commission on Elections will be asked to schedule a plebiscite for the ratification of the amendment by the people.

Meanwhile, the independent bloc of the House of Representatives led by Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez yesterday backed moves to amend the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution.

Romualdez, however, said they would support Cha-cha as long as it will not touch any provision which will extend terms of the current elected officials.

He said the bloc will oppose any move to touch the political provisions of the Charter.

“The Constitution is for the interests of the entire Filipino race and not just of a chosen few,” the lawmaker said. –Paolo Romero

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