Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Thursday said the chamber has no time to look into the proposals laid out in Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, which seeks to amend what its authors called “restrictive” economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution, as Congress is set to adjourn on June 4.

This was his statement after the House of Representatives on Wednesday passed RBH No. 2 on second reading.

“I don’t think we have enough time as it is to take a quick look into the proposal…We have 5 days to go before the sine die adjournment,” Sotto said in a text message to GMA News Online.

Key proponents of the measure said RBH No. 2 could pave the way for the Philippines opening up to increased foreign direct investments, which could later help it recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Ako Bicol party-list Representative Alfredo Garbin, one of the proponents of the RBH No. 2, the Senate could take a look at the measure when the third regular session opens. 

“Senate has enough time to debate on this when the third regular session opens,” Garbin said in a separate message.

“We as the members of Congress have the constitutional duty to push for the needed constitutional reform since that power was given to us by the sovereign,” he added.

In April, Malacañang certified as urgent three economic bills, which the Palace said were needed to provide a “more conducive investment climate, increase job opportunities, foster more competition, and further spur the country’s economic growth.”

The bills are:

  • An Act Amending the Commonwealth Act No. 146, otherwise known as the Public Service Act, as Amended
  • An Act Promoting Foreign Investments, amending thereby Republic Act No. 7042 otherwise known as the ‘Foreign Investments Act of 1991,’ as Amended, and for other purposes
  • An Act Amending the Republic Act No. 8762, otherwise known as the ‘Retail Trade Liberalization Act of 2000,’ by lowering the required paid-up capital for Foreign Retail Enterprises, and for other purposes

Previously, Senate Minority Leader Drilon opposed the plans to amend the Constitution. Instead, he suggested to amend the 83-year-old Public Service Law and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act of 2000.

“Anyway, the bills certified by the Palace as urgent have passed or are in advance stages in the Senate,” Sotto said in the same text message.

Senator Panfilo Lacson likewise agreed that the “restrictive” economic provisions in the 1987 Charter can already be addressed by the two bills suggested by Drilon.

“The restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution are now being addressed in the two bills that [was] mentioned, relying heavily on existing jurisprudence which we are now trying to reconcile with the proposed amendments as contained in the said Senate bills,” Lacson said in a separate text message to GMA News Online.

Lacson reiterated that the manner of voting on any Constitutional changes is still an issue that needs to be resolved.

“Apparently, there is no compelling reason to amend the Charter without running afoul of the issue involving the manner of voting by the members of the two chambers of Congress – whether jointly or separately,” he said,

“The senators assert that only the Supreme Court can interpret the provision to amend or revise the Charter. The problem is the absence of the cause of action that would trigger the Court to act and resolve the matter,” he added.

For Senator Grace Poe, an “economic Charter change” deserve less attention following Malacañang’s certification of economic measures as urgent.

Poe, who sponsors the bill amending the Public Service Act, said the certified bills will already address the economic concerns but with “much better safeguards.”

“The PSA Amendments for one will allow more foreign investments to come in to give better services to the public, subject to well-calibrated safeguards,” Poe told GMA News Online in a separate text message.

Foreign Investments Act

Meanwhile, she said the amendments to the Foreign Investment Act will further relax strict restrictions under the Negative List while the Retail Trade Liberalization Act will lower the paid-up capital to allow more businesses to come in and give more jobs.

“All of the gains of above measures can be had even without a cha-cha. I am personally wary of a piecemeal revision of the Constitution. It is a living document which holds the aspirations of the people. It should only be revised under the strictest of scrutiny for the right reasons,” Poe said.

“You don’t just change it on a whim, especially now that everyone is fearful of a creeping invasion in our shores. Tinkering with the Constitution should always be our last resort,” she added.

The Senate has already passed the bill amending the Retail Trade Liberalization Act on third reading.

Meanwhile, the bills amending the Public Service Act and Foreign Investments Act are currently pending on second reading. — with Anna Felicia Bajo/RSJ, GMA News

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