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Why many are leery about  Charter change

There seems to be wide agreement about the need to open the country’s economy to greater foreign investment. But the private business sector along with some government economic officials are for doing this via several pending economic bills, while the country’s politicians are for amending the Philippine Constitution to do it.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, generally known as the voice of Philippine business, said there are already several pending economic reform bills in Congress. There is the Public Service Amendment, already approved by the House of Representatives and now pending in the Senate Committee on Public Services, which would lift limitations on foreign equity ownership in some sectors currently classified as public utilities, including telecommunications and transport. It would limit the term “public utility” to three sectors – distribution of electricity, transmission of electricity, and water distribution and sewage pipelines.

The Financial Executives of the Philippines Institute (FINEX) said the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill has been pending for months in Congress, along with the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) bill. Fifty-two organizations have issued statements calling for enactment of the CREATE bill.

The FINEX also cited the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) bill which was approve d by Congress before the Christmas break and called on President Duterte to immediately sign it.

The Makati Business Club, the Management Association of the Philippines, and several other business groups have similarly expressed their support for these economic reform bills. But members of Congress are calling instead for amending the Constitution to achieve the same goals.

At a recent briefing, Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Ramon M. Lopez said that as a matter of principle, the DTI has always been for liberalizing the restrictions on foreign participation in some industries through various laws, but there is a growing move among members of Congress to achieve this via constitutional amendments instead.

There is a some concern, however, that if senators and congressmen start amending the Constitution, they will also amend current provisions limiting their terms in office. Senators are now limited to two consecutive six-year terms, while congressmen are limited to three consecutive three-year terms. The president and vice president are banned from any reelection. Should they succeed in making any change in the Constitution, these would be submitted in one bundle to the people in a plebiscite.

Would it be possible to have separate voting on each amendment? The people might approve of the economic changes, but might not go along with other changes, such as allowing unlimited reelection to office. With such an arrangement, the current resistance to amending the Constitution via Constituent Assembly might not be as persistent as it is today.

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