Cha-cha bill set for House plenary debates

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The Charter change (Cha-cha) train has significantly moved in the House of Representatives on Monday as a House panel approved Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.’s House Resolution 1, which lifts the Constitutional limit on foreign ownership of certain utilities.

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Voting 24 to 2 with one abstention, the House committee on constitutional amendments set Belmonte’s resolution for plenary debates, which marked the second time in Congress’ history that a proposal to amend the Constitution hurdled the committee level.

The Speaker’s proposal removes restrictions on the participation of foreigners in the country’s economy—such as a 40-percent limit on foreign ownership of public utilities, media entities, land and exploration of natural resources and a 30-percent exposure limit in advertising firms and other business ventures—by adding the phrase “unless otherwise provided for by law.”

Reps. Elpidio Barzaga of Dasmariñas and Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list noted that the measure will grant Congress the needed flexibility to draft laws in tune with the economic situation.

“Now, it is 60-40. We can make it 40-60 [in the future]in favor of foreigners to encourage more investors, or even 70-30 at that [in favor of foreigners]. But if there comes a time when we already have enough foreign investments coming in, we can make it again 70-30, in favor of Filipinos. When that happens, those foreigners who acquired investments under the old rule won’t lose it,” Barzaga said.

“Our economic policies cannot be cast in stone. We must be able to adopt to changing realities and this measure gives Congress that flexibility,” Batocabe said.

Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list opposed the measure.

“Why not conduct consultations first? The authors are saying that the amendments to the Constitution will be subject to a plebiscite anyway. Do we have that much resources that we’d rather leave it up to plebiscite? What if it turns out that the people don’t like it? We already spent a great deal of resources for nothing,” Colmenares, a lawyer, argued.

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