With or without Aquino support: House to pass Cha-cha bill

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Despite the indifference of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, a measure that seeks to amend the Constitution will reach the House plenary and be approved within the first semester of the year, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said on Thursday.

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Belmonte said the House leadership will push the amendment of economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution to ease the 60-40 rule limiting foreign ownership of companies in the country.

If this measure successfully hurdles the lawmaking process, Congress can pass an enabling law to relax the ownership rule in the country, an issue cited by foreign investors as their reason for not putting up businesses in the Philippines.

Under Article XII of the Constitution, foreign investors are prohibited from owning more than 40 percent of real properties and businesses, and they may not exploit natural resources and own any company in the media industry.

Together with the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira), this measure will be on top of the legislative agenda of the lower chamber and will most likely eclipse the passage of the long-overdue Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.

The Speaker’s pronouncement followed Majority Leader Rep. Neptali Gonzales 2nd of Mandaluyong City’s declaration that it was almost impossible for Charter change to flourish in Congress because people, especially critics, would surmise it would be used for extending term limits of public officials.

“I want to prove that we are not obsessed with term limits. I want to prove that it’s possible for us to zero in on an important issue,” Belmonte said. “I myself don’t like floodgates of amendments. I’d just talk to them, to prove that it can be done and if it cannot be done then I’m wrong.”

Aquino has turned down several times the proposals of lawmakers to amend such a critical provision of the Constitution, but the lawmaker said he was confident that the measure will get three-fourths of the votes in both chambers of Congress.

“There are many bills put into law without [the President]making them a priority. Of course we pay attention to the priority of the President but we are not constrained to do nothing except his priority. We are the lawmakers,” Belmonte said.

According to the Speaker, brothers Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro and Rep. Maximo Rodriguez of Abante Mindanao Party-list have expressed their intentions to sponsor Belmonte’s Joint Resolution No. 1.
Belmonte assured the public that the resolution will be limited to economic provisions and once lawmakers amend political provisions, he will personally ask the committee to defer the submission of the bill to the plenary.

The House leadership plans to add the clause “unless provided by law” in the foreign ownership item of the Constitution, particularly land ownership, public utilities, natural resources, media and advertising industries.

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