Do economic Cha-cha without any fuss – Marcos

Helen Flores - The Philippine Star
Do economic Cha-cha without any fuss � Marcos
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on February 20, 2024.
STAR / KJ Rosales

Congressional rift just a ‘storm in teacup’

MANILA, Philippines — As lawmakers continue to lock horns over conflicting game plans for Charter change, President Marcos has decided to step in, directing them to proceed with their tasks “without any fuss.”

“Maybe I don’t proclaim but some were saying I need to intervene, I have been talking to both sides for a long time,” the President said in a media interview after attending the 16th Ani ng Dangal Awards in Manila.

“But you know, what for me is more important than these proclamations and pronouncements is to get it done. We do it quietly,” Marcos said.

“We just want to get those amendments incorporated into the Constitution to improve the chances of investment and upskilling of our people,” he stressed.

Asked if he is done with his consultations with legal luminaries and experts on the Constitution, Marcos responded, “Months ago.”

When pressed about his preferred method of amending the Constitution, the President said what he has been espousing from the beginning is for the Senate to take the lead.

“What’s happening now, I always said the Senate will take the lead. The Senate is taking the lead and between the two Houses they will come to an agreement, then that will be the way we’ll do it,” he said.

Marcos said the move to amend the Constitution has been decided long ago by both leaders of Congress.

“But I don’t know why there is such. It’s really a storm in a tea cup because this has been decided very long ago by the leaders of both Houses,” the Chief Executive said.

Marcos has repeatedly batted for amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution to make it attuned to the globalized world and help the country attract more foreign investments.

In his speech during the observation of the Constitution Day in Makati City early this month, Marcos said reforms in the Constitution would be limited to the basic law’s economic provisions.

“I want to make it clear: This administration’s position in introducing reforms to our Constitution extends to economic matters alone, or those strategically aimed at boosting our country’s economy. Nothing more,” he said.

The Senate and the House of Representatives have been bickering over their clashing approach to amending the Constitution. The Senate has not been receptive to Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 introduced by the House leadership, saying it’s espousing a joint voting on Charter change, which is tantamount to emasculating the Senate.

Apparently in a bid to break the impasse, House leaders filed on Monday RBH7, an “almost exact reproduction” of RBH6 to expedite the Cha-cha process and have it finalized before the Holy Week.

Committee of the whole

The 311-member House of Representatives is set to convene today as a “committee of the whole” to deliberate on the proposed economic provisions contained in RBH7.

“It would be proper that the committee of the whole, all members of the House, will discuss this Charter change issue, so that we can elevate the level of discourse, discussion and debates,” Rep. Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte’s second district said.

Barbers reassured his colleagues in the Senate that they are not out to abolish the upper chamber, and that no political provisions would be replaced in the Charter.

“That is the reason why a committee of the whole is necessary, to allay the fears of some of our colleagues in the Senate that we have no political motivation here whatsoever,” the Mindanao legislator stressed.

“We want to ask questions to the resource speakers questions that are not being asked in the Senate. I will first ask those opposing Charter change, I want to ask them why are they opposed to it, because most of them say it’s not the right time to do it now,” Rep. LRay Villafuerte said.

“I will ask them, when is the right time? And why? These are not being asked in the Senate hearings. I want to ask them personally,” the Camarines Sur second district congressman added.

One senator, at least, has welcomed the introduction of RBH7.

Sen. Sonny Angara said the filing of RBH7 is an indication that Congress has a clear direction in its Charter change endeavor.

“The RBH7, we thought it was different but apparently it’s the same. We have been clarified on that,” Angara told Senate reporters before the resumption of the public hearing of the Senate sub-committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes.

He said the RBH7 could also stop the noise and confusion on the issue of the people’s initiative, which calls for Congress to vote as one and not separately.

Angara said the Senate does not have to rush its deliberations on RBH6.

“We were the first to file RBH6, so that’s good. To me, the filing of RBH7 is positive instead of holding daily press conferences that criticize the Senate, it’s better that they have to conduct public hearings to discuss. As congressmen, they are in the best in position because they are in their own districts so they can consult their districts,” he added.

When asked about complications, he said that if there would be significant differences between RBH6 and RBH7, the Senate and House would have to hold a bicameral conference to harmonize conflicting provisions.

“We want to vote separately and for them to just adopt the Senate version. Maybe before we finalize the Senate’s version, we will also consult with the House as to the content,” he said.

New digital era

In RBH7, administration congressmen again batted for economic Charter change, as it would pave the way for the Philippines to be “competitive” in the globalized digital era.

“Our children deserve to have access to the best educational institutions, both Filipino and foreign, to ensure that they receive the best training to become globally competitive citizens of the modern world,” RBH7 stated.

“The nation’s economic policy must be reframed under the demands of this increasingly globalized age, while still protecting the general policy of Filipino-first that guides the economic provisions of the Constitution,” it read.

Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr., Deputy Speaker David Suarez and House Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe stressed the need to institutionalize the reforms laid down in the amended Public Service Act to liberalize industries, promote efficient service delivery and foster competition as an enduring policy.

Rep. Janette Garin of Iloilo’s first district, for her part, said Charter change would be needed to boost the country’s economy and increase the salaries of the labor force, like the P100 legislated wage hike approved by the Senate, but which is unlikely to be passed by the House.

“Why don’t we lift these restrictive provisions and open our economy to let these foreign investors come in? They will come in, these big multinationals or companies, salaries of our workers will be higher, then the economy will take off and improve the lot of our people,” she said.

House Deputy Speaker Tonypet Albano said the House would use the knowledge it gained in the past several years in the task of amending the Constitution.

“We’re not trying to fast-track or railroad this. This amendment of the Constitution has been discussed by previous Congresses and we will get the knowledge from those caravans, those exhaustive studies, the many types of roadshows that we’ve already done in the past,” he said.

“The only difference, moving forward, is we have to do this formally. And if we do it in a constituent assembly, with the committee of the whole on the part of the lower House, this will be an exhaustive hearing,” the Isabela congressman added.

“Even those who are against the provisions, we want to hear from them so that we can learn what provisions of the law we can improve for this Constitution. Again … this is not a fast-track method, this will be debated in plenary exhaustively like any other bill,” Albano said.

Educators against Cha-cha

At yesterday’s hearing, Educators and officials of leading universities voiced opposition to the proposal to allow foreign ownership of educational institutions.

Angara clarified that RBH6 does not intend to remove the control of basic education from Filipinos.

“Perhaps we should aim with greater precision in the language of the amendments since some of those who read the RBH6 interpreted it to mean that Congress would also be able to amend basic education,” he said.

Patricia Licuanan, former chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, said “the public resources allotted to Charter change discussions were an unconscionable waste” and that such “wasteful and divisive activity should be shelved at once.”

“My general view as an educator is that this distinction is unnecessary because I do not favor amendments to restrictions on foreign ownership of educational institutions at any level,” Licuanan noted.

“Instead of Cha-cha, what should be prioritized is the issue of rampant corruption that prevents the entry of foreign investors,” she said.

She also said that foreign universities setting up campuses in the Philippines would not be sustainable.

She said that the cases of Yale University in Singapore and the foreign university branch campuses in Malaysia were set up under different circumstances.

She noted that Singapore only tapped Yale to develop creativity, which is perceived as lacking in their developed educational system.

“Foreign universities, while possibly attracted by our large young population, will soon discover after careful market studies that branch campuses in the Philippines will not be sustainable,” Licuanan said. — Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla

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