House panel OKs proposal for constitutional convention

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
House panel OKs proposal for constitutional convention

MANILA, Philippines — A House of Representatives panel approved on Monday a proposal calling for a constitutional convention to change the 1987 Constitution, in a bid to ease restrictions on economy.

Voting 16-3 in favor of the resolution with one abstain, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments approved the still-unnumbered Resolution of Both Houses, consolidating different proposals in favor of a constitutional convention.

A constitutional convention is among the three methods to change the Charter. It involves creating a separate body of representatives elected by the voting public that would vote on revisions or amendments.

The House, which held its seventh and last public consultation on Charter change on Monday, has heard several arguments from economic and political science experts, legal luminaries and Framers of the 1987 Constitution to arrive at a consensus on whether to change the Constitution or not, or how the Congress can best go about it. 

The approved resolution stated that holding a constitutional convention to amend or revise the Charter would be the "most transparent, exhaustive, democratic and least divisive means of implementing constitutional reforms” among other options.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro), committee chairperson, said that the approved resolution represents the panel's "general statement" and that the committee will still discuss the accompanying bill, which includes the procedure, expenditures and other details needed to hold the constitutional convention.

The resolution also mentioned the urgency of rewriting the economic provisions in the Charter to make the Philippines “globally competitive” and more open to foreign investments.

Calling the change “long overdue,” the resolution stated that lifting the charter’s economic restrictions has also been the call of business and economic groups.

Hybrid con-con 

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Puno called on the committee to hold a "hybrid" constitutional convention with members composed of the elected delegates along with Malacañang- and Congress-appointed experts.

Puno suggested this after noting the “seeming deterioration” of the country’s electoral process as he recommended that having experts vote would protect the convention from partisan interests.

“There is the lurking danger that the elected delegates to the (constitutional convention) … would be just proxies or factotums of political dynasties and economic oligarchs,” Puno said. “More people with expertise in law, economics, may not join the elections knowing its futility.”

Puno added that allowing both the executive and the legislative branch of government to select their appointees will ensure that the process will not be monopolized.

“I submit that Congress has the power the determine the composition of the Constitutional convention. This hybrid model has been used in other countries with no serious Constitutional issues raised against it,” Puno added.

The lawmakers will reconvene on Wednesday to discuss whether to adopt Puno's suggestion in the accompanying bill.

'New charter can't cure old problems'

Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women’s Party), among the three lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc who opposed the resolution, however raised that current issues plaguing the country, such as inflation, poverty and landlessness, do not stem from the 1987 Constitution.

"Hence, amending the Constitution will not magically cure these problems," Brosas added. 

Brosas said that while more foreign capital has been channeled into the country over the years, the “quantity and quality of jobs have remained low.”

"Further liberalizing investments will only cement our inferior position and will not result [in] any technological transfer, much less towards creation of national industries," she added.

The lawmaker added that opening the country’s lands to total foreign ownership would hurt Filipino farmers and indigenous communities and “further undermine the country’s food security and national sovereignty.”

A position paper by University of the Philippines political science professors previously pointed out that a mix of legislation and policy interventions can attract more foreign investors instead of lifting the Constitution’s economic restrictions.

Gov’t to foot the bill of costly con-con

If greenlighted by Congress, the election of delegates for the constitutional convention would cost the government at least P28 billion if held as a separate poll, or P231 million if held simultaneously with the next elections, according to estimates from the National Economic and Development Authority presented during the committee hearing.  

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said on February 12 that Charter Change is not among his priorities as attracting more foreign investments can be done without tweaking the Constitution. 

“There’s so many other things that we need to do first, that we can still do, we can achieve,” Marcos said.

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