The country’s legal experts and top economists expressed conflicting views on charter change (cha-cha) as the Senate started on February 5 its hearing on Resolution of Both Houses number 6 (RBH6).
While the Senate targets to finish the hearing on the resolution before the end of March, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and subcommittee chairperson of the Constitutional Amendments Sen. Sonny Angara assured it will not be done in haste.
RBH6 seeks to amend three specific economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, particularly Articles 12, 14, and 16.
The joint resolution was filed by Zubiri and Angara and Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda.
Zubiri noted the study on the proposed amendments would not be like other proposals which were “approved without thinking.”
“We must discuss this with all members of society, not just our learned luminaries here, as well as different sectors that will be affected the most by the amendments of our Constitution…and come out with the best possible outcome,” Zubiri said.
But he noted that the timeline for the hearings is now in the hands of Angara.
He had assured President Marcos that the Senate would be able to finish the deliberations before Congress adjourns for the Holy Week recess.
For his part, Angara said, “just wish to reiterate my colleagues’ stand that this (charter change) is not something that needs to be rushed given its importance, especially since it is the most important or highest law in the country, the Constitution itself,” Angara said in his opening statement at the start of the hearings on RBH No. 6.
In the hearing, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide renewed his firm and unchangeable stand that there is no valid, serious and compelling reason to amend the 1987 Constitution. He believes the country just needs the full implementation of its principles and its state policies.
He also recommended that RBH6 provisions must include economic provisions on agriculture and land ownership.
Former Supreme Court associate justice Vicente Mendoza suggested the Senate and House of Representatives to sit as one body.
“Beyond this debate of construing the silence of the Constitution, there is some benefit if the two Houses come together,” he said.
He stressed the two Houses of Congress can exchange views regardless of their status as senators or congressmen. “The Constitution contemplates that they are not senators or congressmen – they are members of a constituent assembly – just one body,” he said.
“So the benefit of exchange is there, which you cannot have if you leave this policymaking to Congress by law because one House will be acting here (Senate) and the other will be acting there in Quezon City. You will not have the benefit of exchange of views,” further stated Mendoza.
Another former Justice of the SC- Adolf Azcuna said proposed to make two changes in the RBH6.
He asked senators to change the word “to be enacted” to “to be resolved” since in RBH6, they are not proposing a bill or a law but amending the Constitution.
With RBH6, Azcuna emphasized they are no longer acting as a legislative body but a Constituent Assembly (Con-As).
He also sought to remove the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law,” saying it is an invitation to the House to add other words.
“This opens the gates of changing the very substance of the economic provisions itself. It should be basic,” he further stated.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who actively questioned the former justices, insisted that there are already laws and pending legislation targeted to liberalize the economy.
Among them are RA 10641 or amendments to the Foreign Bank Liberalization Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the Public Service Act and the Foreign Investments Act.
“So much of the Philippine economy is already open to foreign participation. Bukas na bukas na po ang ating tindahan, ladies and gentlemen,” she said.
She further belied Cha-cha proponents’ claim that the Constitution is “too restrictive” and compared the supposed restrictions to those of Singapore, whose economy continues to thrive despite strict restrictions on critical industries and public utilities.
She pointed out as untrue what they have been saying about restrictive.
She called against using the Constitution as collateral damage to advance the agenda of the few.
In airing his objection to amend the Constitution, lawyer Christian Monsod quoted the President who said, “the 1987 Constitution was not written for a globalized world. We have to adjust it so we can increase the economic activity in the Philippines and we can attract more foreign investors.”
He said this is the same president who a year ago said, “for me all these things being talked about we can do without changing the constitution”.
He said even the Foreign Chamber of Commerce admitted that opening land for foreign ownership will probably raise the price of land beyond the reach of the poor.
As for mining, Monsod said it is allowed 100 percent in partnership with government under Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution, and then there is the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Dr. Gerardo Sicat, who was the country’s first NEDA director general, said he favors the amendment of the restrictive economic provisions, pointing out they are the prominent provisions “for which we have suffered as a nation, in failing to achieve the goals of economic development over a long period of time.” Former Finance secretary Margarito Teves, on the other hand, said “the close and restrictive model has been with us since 1935 and it contributed to the inability of our country to progress. It is high time to change the business model under the constitution.”