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Senators unlikely to back Cha-cha

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Senators unlikely to back Cha-cha
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he does not think there is enough time to discuss the matter, with only five session days left before Congress’ adjournment on June 4.
The STAR / Paolo Romero, file

MANILA, Philippines — Citing lack of time, senators are not inclined to support a measure that will introduce amendments to some economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he does not think there is enough time to discuss the matter, with only five session days left before Congress’ adjournment on June 4.

“I don’t think we have enough time as it is to take a quick look into the proposal. Anyway, the bills certified by the Palace as urgent have passed or are in advanced stages in the Senate. We have five days to go before the sine die adjournment,” Sotto said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said there are several proposed major measures to liberalize the investment climate without amending the Constitution.

“Unless otherwise provided by law: the proposed Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Foreign Investments Act are already major laws bills designed to liberalize our investment climate without amending the Constitution. CREATE is now a law,” said Drilon, referring to the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act which was passed on March 26.

“My reading is that the senators are not inclined to support amendments to the Constitution at this time. It was not even in the agenda of the LEDAC (Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council) meeting yesterday, which means it is not a priority legislation,” Drilon added.

Administration lawmakers in the House of Representatives last night approved on second reading a measure that would finally introduce amendments to prohibitive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

Resolution of Both Houses 2, authored by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, received an overwhelming approval even as Reps. Edcel Lagman of Albay and Kit Belmonte of Quezon City, both lawyers, attempted but failed to inject amendments.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said the House-approved measure is

“anti-Filipino, pro-foreigners and violative of the legal process to amend the Constitution.”

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the manner of voting – jointly or separately of the Senate and the House of Representatives – would have to be resolved first before the proposal to amend the Constitution could be tackled.

“It’s not a question of time. Until the manner of voting is resolved – jointly or separately, the Senate will not move to change certain provisions in the Constitution,” Lacson added.

“Apparently, there is no compelling reason to amend the Charter without running afoul of the issue involving the manner of voting by the members of the two chambers of Congress,” Lacson said.

He noted that the senators assert that only the Supreme Court can interpret the provision to amend or revise the Charter. “The problem is the absence of the cause of action that would trigger the Court to act and resolve the matter,” he added.

“Like any other measure, the resolution will of course merit some debate in the Senate. However, an economic Cha-cha would probably deserve less attention given that we already have other foreign investment measures that are certified urgent,” Sen. Grace Poe said.

Poe said the certified bills would already address the current economic concerns but with much better safeguards. “The PSA (Public Service Act) amendments for one will allow more foreign investments to come in to give better services to the public, subject to well-calibrated safeguards,” she said.

She explained that the amendments to the Foreign Investment Act would further relax restrictions under the Negative List, while the Retail Trade Liberalization Act – passed recently by the Senate – lowered the paid-up capital to allow more businesses to come in and generate more jobs.

“All of the gains of the above measures can be had (achieved) even without a Cha-cha,” she said. “I am personally wary of a piecemeal revision of the Constitution. It is a living document which holds the aspirations of the people. It should only be revised under the strictest of scrutiny for the right reasons.

“You don’t just change it on a whim, especially now that everyone is fearful of a creeping invasion in our shores. Tinkering with the Constitution should always be our last resort,” she added.  — Elizabeth Marcelo

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