Behind closed doors, lawmakers OK resolution amending Constitution

MANILA, Philippines – A resolution that would lift restrictions on foreign investments and extend the term of congressmen was approved by the House committee on constitutional amendments in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, December 11.

Committee chairman and Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez confirmed the approval of the still-unnumbered resolution of both houses (RBH) on Thursday, December 12.  

“Yes, approved na and papunta na sa plenary next week (Yes, it’s already approved and will go to the plenary next week),” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. 

He listed 4 major constitutional amendments being proposed by his committee.

Topping this list was the addition of the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” on the constitutional restrictions that limited the participation of foreign investors in the governing body of entities based on their proportionate share in the capital. 

The addition of the said phrase means Congress would have the power to pass a law that would ease foreign investments in the Philippines.

“This will lift all these restrictions so we can pull in more investments in the country provide more jobs,” Rodriguez said.

Lawmakers also wanted the president and the vice president to be voted as a team, which means the two highest officials in the country would come from the same political party.

This is similar to the system in the United States, where a vote for the president automatically means a vote for the running mate as well. 

The proposed RBH also wants to extend the term of the members of the House of Representatives and local government unit (LGU) officials from the current 3 years to 5 years. 

The House panel, meanwhile, wanted to cut the term of senators from the current 6 years to 5 years but would increase their numbers from the current 24 to 27. Under the RBH, 3 senators would be elected from each of the following 9 regions: 

“[We are including this provision] because there are sectors that need representation in the Senate. This is also for equitable growth of other regions,” Rodriguez explained. (READ: Lawmaker seeks longer term for House members, but shorter term in Senate)

Under the RBH, all congressional lawmakers and LGU officials would be eligibile to be reelected twice, but it will not cover incumbent lawmakers and elected local officials 

“This isn’t self-serving. If approved, the start of the 5-year term will begin in 2022. Hindi kami kasama (We’re not included here),” said Rodriguez. 

The RBH will have to go through its 2nd and 3rd reading to successfully hurdle the House. The resolution will then have to go through another 3 readings in the Senate before it can be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.  

The 1987 Constitution, however, only specifies 3 modes for amendments. These are: Congress convening itself into a Constituent Assembly, the people electing a Constitutional Convention, and the People’s Initiative, where Filipinos can directly propose changes in the charter. (READ: What you need to know about Charter Change)

A shift to federalism – where the country would be divided into autonomous regions – was a campaign promise of Duterte. But in his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July, the President made no mention of charter change. Still, the Duterte government said it would continue pushing for federalism.

‘Charter change by legislation' 

Bayan Muna Representative and Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate slammed the discreet manner the House committee on constitutional amendments approved the RBH.

He argued this was a means to skirt the Constitution itself.

Lalabas nito, this is a cha-cha (This is, in effect, charter change) by legislation. Hindi naman ito nakalagay sa ating Saligang Batas (This is not allowed under our Constitution). This is a very dangerous action,” Zarate said in a press conference.  

Approval of bills and resolutions are often done in public hearings in the committee level to make the process transparent.  

But Rodriguez defended his committee’s decision to vote on the RBH at an “executive meeting,” arguing they already conducted public consultations across the country: two in Luzon, one in the Visayas, and one in Mindanao. 

“Closed door because there were no more resource persons to hear. We had done the public forums…and this has been discussed in past Congresses,” said Rodriguez. 

This isn’t the first time the House attempted to use the RBH to change the Constitution. In the previous 17th Congress, the House under then-speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, approved on 3rd reading RBH No. 15 that would have shifted the Philippines to a federal system of government.

RBH 15, however, was “dead on arrival” in the Senate. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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