The Charter Change train has significantly moved in the House of Representatives on Monday with the House panel approving Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr.’s House Resolution 1 which lifts the Constitutional limit on foreign ownership of certain utilities.
Voting 24 to 2 with one abstention, the House Committee on Constitutional amendments tossed 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.
Belmonte’s proposal removes restrictions on 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 30 percent limit for 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 of the country, stressing that the economic policies cannot be stagnant.
“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, who has been deputized by Speaker Belmonte in the Committee hearing, added.
Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list opposed the measure by citing that consultations should be held in the districts first to ensure that Belmonte’s proposal is reflective of the sentiments of the people.
Colmenares underscored that with Charter Change not prospering for the last two decades, the lawmakers can’t be so sure that the sentiments of the people have changed this time.
“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 resource 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.
Barzaga, however, countered that Belmonte’s move is different from the unsuccessful Charter Change moves in the past because the amendments are limited to economic provisions and a strong majority coalition.
“Now, we are only talking of economic provisions and at the same time, the opposition is not of the same magnitude as in the past during the administration of President Gloria Arroyo,” Barzaga added. LLANESCA T. PANTI