A LITTLE over a week ago, the House of Representatives quietly approved on second reading (curiously, without any objection from the noisy minority and progressive blocs) a resolution amending the so-called restrictive provisions of the 1987 Constitution supposedly aimed at boosting foreign investments in the country.
Some of our friends and colleagues referred to the proposed measure a “legacy legislation” likening it to a prized inheritance to be transmitted by lawmakers to their children as future legislators. We, on the other hand, would rather call the House resolution for what it really is – a treacherous exercise at transforming the country’s charter into a “pay-to-play” Constitution.
Authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senator Ralph Recto, Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 (RBH-1) seeks to amend the constitution by including the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in some sections of Article 12 (national economy and patrimony), Article 14 (education, science and technology, arts, culture and sports), and Article 16 (general provisions). This means Congress will first have to approve the lifting or easing of the constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership.
The way we see it, the proposed amendments to the Constitution under RBH-1 is, in essence, a money-making scheme by Congress, which will encourage (or require) wealthy foreign companies and powerful industries to lobby (a.k.a. bribe) lawmakers into enacting specific laws to relax or lift certain constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership in exchange for benefits for these foreign companies or industries.
In other words, if these moneyed foreign conglomerates want to engage in, or have 100 percent ownership of certain businesses or industries that are now partly nationalized (like real estate, mining or public utilities) or wholly nationalized (e.g. mass media and retail trade) under the constitution, they will have to “pay-to-play.” And with the big bucks these foreign companies have at their disposal, it’s not so farfetched to think that they can get any law passed by Congress.
So who will be the ultimate beneficiary of a “pay-to-play” Constitution? Our senators and congressmen, of course!
No wonder Belmonte was elated over the passage of the Cha-cha resolution. “This is the first time it ever reached this point and I’m very happy,” he gushed.
It also should not surprise our countrymen that the charter change resolution quickly gained traction in the Senate. Senate President Franklin Drilon recently said that they are ready to tackle the measure as soon as it passes the House and that many senators are supporting an economic Cha-cha.
“I endorse that proposal, because it provides flexibility insofar as the policies set forth in the Constitution are concerned,” Drilon said. Media reports say Senators Sergio Osmeña 3rd, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, JV Ejercito, Cynthia Villar and Sonny Angara have also publicly expressed their support for the proposed Cha-cha.
Perhaps reflecting the general public’s deep-seated mistrust of lawmakers, most Filipinos remain strongly opposed to Cha-cha, especially after the previous admission of a House leader that nothing stops any lawmaker from touching political provisions when the resolution reaches the period of amendments.
But the biggest complaint of many ordinary folks we’ve talked to, however, is that Congress seems to be prioritizing the revision of the country’s charter when it has not even passed the enabling laws required by the Constitution to be passed by the legislature decades ago.
According to the Philippine Constitutional Association (PHILCONSA), 82 of the Philippines’ 130 constitutional provisions still have no enabling law, and for the economic provisions in particular, at least eight articles have no enabling law up to now.
For instance, 28 years after the Philippine Constitution was ratified in 1987, the constitutional provision banning political dynasties could not be enforced for lack of an enabling law. Congress, many of whose members belong to political clans, has yet to define what political dynasties mean.
Another enabling law that has stagnated in Congress for the longest time is the “freedom of information” statute. While the Constitution says that Filipinos have the right to access official records, documents and papers pertaining to official acts or transactions, this basic right has remained largely illusory due to Congress’ inaction.
During the presidential campaign, PNoy vowed to prioritize the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill once he assumes office. Here we are, five years into PNoy’s term and the FOI bill is no closer to being passed because he has consistently refused to certify it as an urgent, Palace-backed legislation.
What’s quite disturbing is that PNoy – who is usually very vocal against Cha-cha – told the Japanese press last Friday that he is now willing to entertain amendments to the Constitution. This has fueled the rumor that PNoy has agreed to keep his hands off Congress’ Cha-cha initiative in exchange for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Huwag naman sana.