THE chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Sunday accused several business groups of flip-flopping on the issue of amending the Constitution’s “restrictive” economic provisions.
In a statement, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez named the Makati Business Club (MBC) and Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex) as the organizations that have changed their stand in their recent statement on Charter reform.
“MBC and Finex are now against Charter amendments. Before this position, they were in favor of changing the Constitution’s economic provisions,” he said.
In a joint statement on Friday, MBC, Finex, Filipina CEO Circle, Judicial Reform Initiative, Philippine Women’s Economic Network, and Women Business Council of the Philippines opposed the current House initiative to rewrite the Constitution’s economic provisions.
They cited the high cost of funding a constitutional convention that would propose the amendments, the investment promotion campaign of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and recently enacted laws that aim to relax certain economic restrictions.
Rodriguez said the President’s efforts to attract foreign capital “are commendable but are still subject to the limitations of the Constitution, as are recent laws, including the amended Public Service Act.”
“These laws cannot amend the Charter. As for the cost involved, we are trying to keep them to the minimum,” he said.
He said MBC and Finex favored Charter reform in previous position papers sent to his committee.
In a position paper dated September 11, 2019, the Makati Business Club said it was reiterating its “long-running support” to lift investment restrictions in the Constitution.
“Among other means, we support adding the words ‘unless otherwise provided by law,’ following the constitutional provisions that set the limits on various sectors.
In a competitive global economy, we believe 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,” the club said.
It said a survey among Asean nations, China and India “shows that while their constitutions may discuss economic principles, specific economic restrictions and guidelines are left to the legislature.”
“Further economic liberalization will bring in new players and technology, who will boost competition on price and quality, benefiting Filipino consumers,” it said.
Finex, in a letter to the Rodriguez committee last February 17, said it agreed with House members on the need to amend the Charters economic provisions, “which have resulted in the most restrictive economic environment among our peer countries and have impeded foreign investments.”
“We note that in almost all countries in the world, restrictions on foreign investments are not contained in their Constitutions. Instead, restrictions on foreign trade and investments are done through legislation or administrative orders that can be changed to suit shifting national priorities,” it said.
Finex also supported the proposed convening of a constitutional convention to propose the amendments.
Rodriguez also cited the January 22, 2021 joint statement of several business organizations, including MBC, Finex, Filipina CEO Circle, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Judicial Reform Initiative, more than a year before the May 2022 elections.
In their statement, the groups urged candidates “to express their support for the relaxation of restrictive economic provisions in our Constitution and commit to initiate steps for the adoption of such provisions within the first 12 months of their term.”
“So we in the House and some supporters in the Senate are on the right track. We are following the recommendations of these big business groups, including their suggested timeline,” Rodriguez said.
For his part, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the opposition of these big business group to Charter change echoed the position of independent-minded members of the House of Representatives against a Constitutional Convention to amend the 1987 Constitution.
Lagman reiterated that Charter change by Con-con or any other mode is not timely as the government has to address more pressing economic problems on poverty, inflation, and food security;
According to Lagman, the political debate on amending the Constitution will be disruptive of the country’s economic recovery momentum and divisive at a time when national unity must be forged.
“The multibillion-peso cost of a constitutional convention can be better channeled to propeople agenda and reforms,” he said.
“The recent statutes liberalizing the entry of foreign investments into the country should first be fully implemented without trifling with the Constitution,” he added.
The Resolution of Both Houses 6, which calls for a hybrid Constitutional Convention (Con-con)—comprising elected and appointed delegates—to do a makeover of the Charter’s restrictive economic provisions, and House Bill 7325, which is meant to be the implementing law for RBH 6, are both pending before the Senate.
The twin Con-con measures were passed on third and final reading before the congressional recess by 301 or nearly 96 percent of the chamber’s 314 members, illustrating the super majority support in the bigger chamber for immediate Charter Change.