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Biz Buzz: Last-ditch effort

/ 04:48 AM October 02, 2015

Some influential members of the local business community are making what they think would be a last-ditch effort to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution under the Aquino administration.

One of the organizations leading the charge is a Makati-based think tank called Stratbase ADR Institute, which is backed by the PLDT group of businessman Manuel Pangilinan.

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For the president of Stratbase, the government’s failure to implement one key economic reform long pushed by foreign and local business groups alike has been “holding the Philippines back from becoming a globally competitive investment destination.” And this is amending the restrictions on foreign ownership enshrined in the Constitution, according to Stratbase president Victor Andres Manhit.

If the Philippines is to promote itself as an investment destination and facilitate the entry of foreign direct investments, the country must bring its policy on foreign ownership to global standards, and relaxing the limitations on foreign ownership, should be key among them.”

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The movement’s best hope, it seems, is House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte who has authored Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 (RBH 1) that seeks to amend the economic provision of the Constitution to allow change in foreign ownership limits to be legislated by Congress.

“This is up for final approval on the House floor and seems to already have the support of Senate President Drilon and the Senate,” Manhit added. “It is now up to President Aquino to whip up his allies to push this to law.”

A quicker and easier approach is for both the Senate and the House to just pass Speaker Belmonte’s RBH 1, which aims to lift constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership.

How will it work? RBH 1 seeks to add a five-word phrase—“unless otherwise provided by law”—to seven economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution to allow greater participation of foreign capitalists in Philippine businesses.

The inclusion of the five-word phrase means that amending the 1987 Charter would require, not the tedious creation of a ConCon and its time-consuming sessions, but only a simple legislation requiring approval by both legislative chambers and then subjected to a plebiscite. A counterpart measure was filed in the Senate by Sen. Ralph Recto.

With the insertion of “unless otherwise provided by law,” RBH 1 will remove restrictions or caps on exploration, development and utilization of natural resources; on alienable lands of public domain, including agricultural, forest or timber, mineral lands and national parks; on conveyance of private lands; on reserved investments; on grant of franchises, certificates or any other forms of authorization for the operation of public utility; on ownership, control and administration of educational institutions, and on ownership and management of mass media and on the policy for engagement in the advertising industry.

Unlike ordinary legislation, constitutional amendments require an absolute three-fourths vote by both Houses of Congress. Thus, for RBH 1 to move on to a plebiscite, it needs to muster at least 217 votes in the 289-member House and at least 18 votes in the 24-member Senate.

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But once approved by Congress, RBH 1 does not have to be signed by President Aquino because it needs only to be ratified through a plebiscite synchronized with the 2016 polls.

There is still enough time for Congress to pass RBH 1 as it has more than six working months to do so from now until it adjourns in February next year ahead of May’s national elections. Enough time, but just barely. Daxim L. Lucas

Email us at bizbuzz@inquirer.com.ph. Get business alerts and a preview of Biz Buzz the evening before it comes out. Text ON INQ BUSINESS to 4467 (P2.50/alert).

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Aquino administration, Business, Manuel Pangilinan, PLDT group, Stratbase ADR Institute, Victor Andres Manhit
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