With at least six big business groups backpedaling on their support for amending the “restrictive” provisions of the 1987 Constitution, Charter change advocates in Congress should now lay the issue to rest.
Business leaders representing the Makati Business Club (MBC), Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex), Filipina CEO Circle, Judicial Reform Initiative, Philippine Women’s Economic Network, and Women Business Council of the Philippines issued a joint statement on March 24, saying that tinkering with the Constitution was a “potentially disruptive proposal at a time when the country may be poised to regain its economic momentum.”
The House of Representatives approved on March 6 Resolution of Both Houses 6 (RBH 6), calling for a constitutional convention (con-con) that would propose amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution that purportedly restrict the entry of foreign investments.
Sen. Robinhood Padilla, chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said his panel is poised to recommend that senators and congressmen sit down as a constituent assembly to rewrite the economic provisions.
In turning their backs on the Cha-cha initiatives, the business groups cited the high cost of funding a con-con to propose the amendments, the efforts of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in investments promotions, as well as the enactment of laws meant to relax certain economic restrictions.
The National Economic and Development Authority has estimated that a con-con would require a budget of between P14 billion and P28 billion. The business leaders said this enormous amount should be “better spent on pro-people programs.”
In view of the business groups’ turnabout and the Senate committee’s preference for a con-ass (constituent assembly), Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez was quick to say that the House was “willing to open discussions” with the senators on their preferred mode of amending the Constitution.
The business leaders know the politicians only too well. They have pointed out that the efforts to amend the economic provisions could be derailed by “political debate.”
The statement last month of Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, for instance, is quite telling. Rodriguez, who chairs the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, conceded in February that there is a “big possibility” that political provisions, including those on term limits of elected officials, would come up despite assurances that a con-con would stick to only the economic provisions of the Constitution.
Proposals to amend the Constitution have always figured in the agenda of many senators and congressmen since the early 1990s, but none has succeeded so far because of contentious issues such as the mode of introducing the amendments, manner of voting and the specific provisions to revise.
The politicians advocating Cha-cha should heed the call of the business groups to direct their attention to the piecemeal approach of laying down policies that would attract more foreign investments rather than wasting time, effort and money on amending the Constitution.
While it is true that business groups, particularly the MBC and Finex, had favored Charter reform in previous years, the change in their perception now may have been due to the COVID-19 pandemic from which the country is still recovering.
Besides, Congress has shown that it can enact through regular legislation measures addressing key economic concerns. As the business leaders pointed out, lawmakers had responded fast enough over the years to legislate the Foreign Investments Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the Rice Trade Liberalization Act, the Public Service Act, and the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act to ease doing business in the country.
Rodriguez said in a statement on Sunday that Congress has been “following the recommendations” of the big business groups in pursuing Charter change. But now that the business groups have changed their position, shouldn’t the legislators follow suit?
They should also listen to the Filipino people who have shown in past surveys that a big majority of them reject Charter amendments.
The legislators need to convince the public that their intention to amend the Constitution is truly for the country, not for their selfish motive to remove term limits and perpetuate their hold on power.