Let’s keep our priorities in order


Members of the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a proposal seeking to amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution on March 6, 2023. Speaker Martin Romualdez said the lower house, voting 301-6, approved a resolution calling for a constitutional convention that will draft the changes to the 1987 Charter.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said moves to amend certain portions of the Constitution would not require a constitutional convention. “A constitutional convention, where delegates will be elected by the people, is more appropriate if the entire Constitution will be revised. But if only certain provisions of the Charter will be amended, a constituent assembly is more expedient and less expensive,” Guevarra said.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution establishes the structure, policies, roles and duties of the government. Currently, there’s a general observation that the Constitution is not without imperfections as there are certain provisions that require amendments to keep them attuned to the times.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez are both in favor of initiatives in Congress to further open up the economy, whether through Charter change or the enactment of laws. Dominguez said the government should open up the economy to its widest extent, but with exemption to land ownership. On the other hand, Lopez said the removal of economic restrictions in the Constitution would help “unleash” the economic potential of the Philippines.

Sen. Robinhood Padilla, head of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, recently said his committee is set to present a report on the resolution seeking to amend the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution. Padilla is proposing that Charter change be done through a constituent assembly (con-ass) with members of the Senate and House of Representatives voting separately.

Local business groups are asking the Senate to consider, among others, the cost to be allocated for a Constitutional convention (Con-con) to amend the Charter, noting at least P14 billion of such allocation could be “better spent” on pro-people programs, such as on agriculture. (Read, “Biz groups press Senate to ditch Cha-cha, say P14-B tag on Con-con ‘better spent’ for people,” in the BusinessMirror, March 24, 2023).

The Makati Business Club, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Justice Reform Initiative, Filipina CEO Circle, Philippine Women’s Economic Network Inc., and Women Business Council Philippines issued a joint statement on Friday wherein they listed the points that they think the Senate should consider as it deliberates on whether to support current House-led moves to amend the Constitution.

“The National Economic and Development Authority estimates a Constitutional convention would cost P14 billion to P28 billion. We believe the funds can be better used on agriculture to address the high inflation, transportation to enable Filipinos to get to work and home in much less time, and needed social services like health, education, and social security,” they said.

While the groups said they have long supported proposals to amend economic provisions of the Constitution that “impede” trade, investment, innovation, competition, and economic and job growth, they believe that recently enacted reforms have addressed many of these “impediments.”

The economic reforms include the amendments to the Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the Foreign Investment Act, the passage of the Rice Trade Liberalization Act, and the most recent one, the Department of Energy circular allowing 100-percent foreign ownership in the renewable energy sector.

“We believe that these reforms, combined with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s efforts to revive local and foreign investment, can accelerate recovery and job growth at a time when the Philippines and the world face serious economic headwinds,” the business groups added. While it is true that certain provisions of the Constitution are inadequate to respond to new needs and to reflect current realities, thus the need to keep them attuned to the times, most Filipinos frown upon Charter change especially at this time when we are facing serious economic challenges.

As the local business groups pointed out, “recently enacted reforms have addressed many economic provisions of the Constitution that impede trade, investment, innovation, competition, economic and job growth.”

Let’s focus first on helping the Philippine economy bounce back from the effects of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, rising prices, and depreciating peso before trying to amend the Constitution. Let’s keep our priorities in order. If Filipinos have no jobs, if the people are hungry, any attempt to amend the Charter is bound to fail. It would do well for our lawmakers to remember that “a hungry man is an angry man.”

Image credits: Jimbo Albano