Intense debate kicks off Cha-cha deliberations

Posted at 02/18/2014 1:16 PM | Updated as of 02/18/2014 1:22 PM

MANILA - Intense debates marked the beginning of the deliberations on House Joint Resolution 1, which proposes to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments began deliberations on the resolution authored by House Speaker Sonny Belmonte.

However, congressmen of the Makabayan bloc also began its offensive to block the measure.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares pointed out that there are Charter change measures pending before the committee that were filed before Belmonte’s resolution, and these should be tackled first.

Rep. Fred Castro said a recent lunch meeting of the authors of the other Charter change (Cha-cha) resolutions resulted in an agreement to withdraw their proposals in favor of the Belmonte proposal. Chairman Mylene Garcia Albano, however, said they have not been notified of the withdrawals.

Rep. Rudy Farinas said the other resolutions object to Charter change. He said these should be tackled after pro-Cha-cha resolutions have been deliberated.

Colmenares separately pointed out that the proceedings of the committee are an exercise of legislators’ constituent power to amend the Constitution, which should happen only after a constituent assembly is called first. He said the Senate should be part of the deliberations.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, however, said lawmakers are merely exercising their constituent power and they are not acting as a constituent assembly yet.

No rules on amending Charter

Colmenares said there are no rules for proposing amendments to the Charter. “Otherwise we will be hailed to court…We ask that we defer the hearing, the procedural issue is very important.”

Barzaga said the lower House does have rules.

Colmenares noted: “We’re exercising power beyond legislative powers. We cannot consider it as an ordinary hearing. We can be challenged before the court… I’d like to register my continuing objection."

The presentations began thereafter, with the Belmonte proposal being sponsored by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

Belmonte himself was present in the room.

Albano said this is the beginning of a 2-week consultation with stakeholders.

Some of the resource persons were local and foreign businessmen from the Makati Business Club and the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon questioned the participation of the foreigners but Rodriguez pointed out that the businessmen were invited and should not be embarrassed.

Foundation for Economic Freedom President Calixto Chikiamco spoke about how the Philippines is one of the countries with economic restrictions in its constitution.

He also argued that in the name of national security, the economic amendments must be pursued.

“We’ve seen after Yolanda the need to modernize infrastructure, by allowing well-capitalized foreign infrastructure to modernize infrastructure," Chikiamco said.

Chikiamco also used the Bangsamoro peace agreement as another justification. He said the country will be able to help the Bangsamoro if investments are liberalized.

"Ito yung uso"

Ibon Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa disputed the arguments, however. He said it is not true that foreign investments will save the country.

He added restrictions are not the problem, but the globalization that has famished the Philippine economy and caused exclusionary growth.

"Ito yung uso. If you want to develop the economy, we need sensible development policy. Nationalist provisions don’t deter foreign investments," he said.

Africa noted that after three decades of rising foreign investments, the local economy does not seem to have the capacity to build up investments on its own.

Peter Wallace of the Wallace Business Forum said Constitutional change is not the only thing that will attract foreign investments. He said closed economies won't work, such as North Korea.

Wallace said economic growth now is consumption-based, not production-based.