TWO big business groups expressed their support for proposals that will ease the restrictive provisions in the 1987 Constitution, as this will allow the Philippines to benefit more from technological advancements and international treaties.
The Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) and the Makati Business Club (MBC) submitted position papers to the House of Representatives. The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, started deliberating Charter- change proposals on Wednesday.
Of particular interest to foreign investors and local businessmen are the economic provisions in the 30-year-old Charter. These are found in Article XII, XIV and XVI.
The JFC said a number of restrictive provisions in the current Constitution date back to the 1935 Constitution or 1973 Constitution, saying these reflect the nationalistic spirit at the time and the protectionist policy to favor Philippine industry over foreign investors.
The group said the restrictions should be removed immediately. JFC said this can best be accomplished by deleting the restrictions without adding the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law.”
“If the restrictions are completely removed following their approval in a referendum, the government and Congress can be prepared with proposed draft laws to introduce bills and hold hearings to deliberate on what restrictions should be placed on any of the currently constitutionally restricted activities that are approved to be reformed by the voters,” the paper read.
“Many of the restrictions on foreign ownership listed in the Foreign Investment Negative List are based on laws,” it added.
JFC said placing restrictions on foreign business activity in the Constitution denies the government flexibility to adjust to future changes in technology, to meet requirements of international treaties, and to take advantage of new opportunities that benefit the economy.
“The Philippine economy is tied into the global economy. Around 10 percent of the Philippine population lives and works abroad. Substantial industries in business- process outsourcing and electronics manufacturing have located in the country,” it added.
MBC Chairman Edgar Chua, in a position paper, said discussions about constitutional changes should start early in a presidential term, to ensure there is time for proper consideration.
“An exception may be made for the lifting of foreign investment restrictions, because they have been discussed in Congress and around the country for decades,” he said.
“On this subject, MBC reiterates its long-running support to lift these restrictions. Among other means, we support adding the words ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ following the Constitutional provisions that set the limits on various sectors,” he added.
In a competitive global economy, Chua said the MBC believes in lower barriers to trade and investment in general.
“In a dynamic global economy, we believe any barriers should be subject to modification by the President and Congress, better than being fixed in the Constitution,” he said.
Chua said a survey of Asean, China and India shows that while their constitutions may discuss economic principles, specific economic restrictions and guidelines are left to the legislature.