Lawmakers keen on easing economic restrictions in Constitution via Con-ass

By Jovee Marie de la Cruz - January 8, 2018

Liberalizing the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution and the possible removal or extension of term limits of government officials are among the top issues that would be discussed by Congress when it convenes into Constituent Assembly (Con-ass) early this year, a leader of the House of Representatives said last Sunday.

House Committee on Constitutional Reforms Chairman Roger G. Mercado of the Lone District of Southern Leyte said he sees no opposition among members of Congress on the proposal amending the Constitution’s restrictive economic provisions by removing the provisions that limit foreign ownership in various sectors of the economy.

“I think we’ll have no problem [in the proposal amending the economic provision of the Constitution]. We need to open our economy because of the present system. We are promoting the world trade organization system that is open to all,” Mercado said in a radio interview.

“We have just concluded the Asean [summit]. We have now Asean engineers, Asean lawyers that can practice law wherever we are in the member organization of Asean. We [only] need surgical changes to adopt to the present conditions and that’s why we need to change our 30-year-old Constitution,” he added.

There are several moves in 17th Congress liberalizing the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution. Under Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, foreign investors are prohibited to own more than 40 percent on certain industries, while they are totally restricted to exploit natural resources, public utilities and own any company in the media industry.

Term limits

Moreover, Mercado said there are sentiments among lawmakers on the possible extension or removal of term limits of some of government officials, including in the local government units.

“These are the sentiments [and] based on our survey 60-40 in favor that the term of elected officials will be four years because three years is too short [to implement programs and projects]. Also, there were times before there were no term limits but very effective. Like for example in America, there are no term limits. You can stay there until your constituents will vote you out of office,” he said.

However, Mercardo clarified that all these constitutional amendments would still be submitted to the people in a plebiscite.

“So we are proposing [these amendments] for approval of our members, in case there will be a constituent assembly. All the while, all of these [discussions] are open, transparent, everybody is welcome to criticize, to make recommendations without fear,” he said.

Mercado, meanwhile, denied the possible extension of term of President Duterte. Duterte’s term will end in 2022.

Moreover, while there could be some disagreements between the two chambers of Congress over the issue of voting jointly or separately in a Con-ass, Mercado said, “be that as it may, I think Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez and other lawmakers, we are amenable on separate voting [issue].”

Earlier, Alvarez said convening Congress into a Constituent Assembly to propose Charter amendments and shift to federalism is top priority of House of Representatives when session resumes on January 15.

Alvarez said if the 17th Congress could convene into a Con-ass this January, the proposed new federal charter could be submitted for referendum simultaneously with the barangay elections on May 14, 2018.

Under Con-ass, it’s the sitting lawmakers themselves—congressmen and senators—who will serve as the delegates.

The House Committee on Constitutional Reforms’ four technical working groups (TWGs) are already drafting a proposed Philippine Federal Constitution.

TWG 1 chaired by Rep. Corazon Nuñez-Malanyaon of Negros Oriental is handling the provisions on the Executive-Legislative (Articles VI and VII); New article on Federal and Regional Powers, Numbers of States; and Local Government and Taxation/Allocation of Resources (Article X).

TWG 2 chaired by Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro of Capiz is drafting the provisions on the Judiciary (Article VIII); Amendments or Revisions (Article XVII); Suffrage (Article V), Citizenship (Article IV); and Bill of Rights (Article III).

TWG 3 chaired by Rep. Alfredo Benitez of Negros Occidental is preparing the Preamble; National Territory (Article I); Declaration of Principles and State Policies (Article II); General Provisions (Article XVI); and Transitory Provisions (Article XVIII).

Last, TWG 4 chaired by Rep. Vicente Veloso of Leyte is handling Social Justice, Labor and Others (Article XIII); Education, Science and Others (Article XIV); National Economy and Patrimony (Article XII); New article on the Bill of Duties; Accountability of Public Officials (Article XI); and Family (Article XV).