In a statement yesterday, the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines and Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines said they recognized the need to amend certain provisions of the 1987 Constitution to make it more adaptable and responsive to current social and economic realities.  File

Biz groups: Con-con for federalism shift
(The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Three of the country’s top business groups support the lifting of economic restrictions in the Constitution through a constitue nt assembly, but prefer a “duly elected” constitutional convention if the changes will include a shift in the form of government.

In a statement yesterday, the Makati Business Club (MBC), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex) said they recognized the need to amend certain provisions of the 1987 Constitution to make it more adaptable and responsive to current social and economic realities.

“We believe this is a necessary action in helping us realize the aspiration of a more inclusive and sustainable growth,” the groups said, noting that the proposal to amend certain economic provisions of the Constitution is aligned with the Duterte administration’s push to lift the economic restrictions and open more business areas to foreign investors.

Recently, the MAP and the Philippine Business Group also issued statements supporting economic Cha-cha and said a constituent assembly or con-ass would suffice for this purpose, with the two chambers of Congress voting separately and independently.

For a change in the form of government, however, the two groups said a constitutional convention or con-con is needed.

The MBC, MAP and Finex, in their statement, pointed out that increasing the participation of foreigners in the economy will be a welcome development as it will mean a fresh infusion of financial resources into undercapitalized sectors.

They also believe that amending the economic provisions will lead to the introduction of new technologies that will spur greater innovation and efficiency in local industries, as well as the promotion of healthy competition that will drive businesses to produce better quality and more competitively priced products and services.

Easing foreign investment restrictions will be critical in light of the country’s commitments to the ASEAN Economic Community and its intent to form closer trade relationships with other economies.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has been urging Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III to join the constituent assembly initiated by the House of Representatives.

Last week, Alvarez said the House would convene as a constituent assembly and work on a federal constitution even without the participation of the Senate.

Under the draft federal constitution that Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso – an ally of President Duterte and a former justice of the Court of Appeals – is proposing, the lawmaking powers of the Senate will be removed while its mandate to confirm appointments of Cabinet members and the ratification of treaties will remain.

“Personally, my proposal is the legislation will be basically a responsibility of congressmen. We will call them federal assemblymen. The Senate, we will make it a point to be the training ground for the presidency,” Veloso, vice chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said over dzBB yesterday.

The House will also retain the power of the purse, or the power to approve budgets, to avoid duplication of function.

“Wala na silang pakialam sa budget, wala na silang pakialam sa lawmaking (They have nothing to do with the budget, they have nothing to do with lawmaking),” Veloso said.

Business: Con-con more democratic

But the MBC, MAP and Finex said they believe it is more democratic for the two chambers of Congress to vote separately to recognize the autonomy of the Senate and to avoid diluting the voice of the senators in the critical process.

“We understand this to be the intention of the framers of the 1987 Constitution and this is also consistent with the legislative process. The proposed amendments shall then be presented and discussed with the public before seeking approval via nationwide plebiscite,” the groups said.

While the MBC, MAP and Finex acknowledged other legal modes of revising the Charter, they believe a constitutional convention will offer a more diverse, independent and prospective approach.

“In connection with the possibility of shifting to another form of government, we believe a duly elected constitutional convention is the appropriate body to amend the Constitution,” the business groups noted.

“Our current elected officials were placed into position by their constituents to tackle numerous priority legislative reforms and have more than enough on their hands. A constitutional convention, on the other hand, will be purposely elected for the specific task of revising the Constitution and, therefore, individuals who wish to be elected for this role can properly present themselves and their views during the campaign period.”

“While such mode would entail greater costs to implement and probably more time, it should be seen as a justifiable investment that will result in significant social returns in the long run,” they added.

House can go it alone

But for Veloso, even if the senators do not want to join the constitutional assembly, the House can do it alone.

“Magsosolo kami. Hindi naman sinasabi sa Constitution na kailangan palaging present ang mga senador eh, palaging present ang mga kongresista (We will do it alone. The Constitution did not say that the senators must always be present, but the congressmen must always be present),” Veloso said.

Veloso also reminded senators that they cannot just expel their colleagues who want to join the House-initiated constituent assembly.

“Sila ang dapat ma-expel (senators who will not participate in constituent assembly are the ones who should be expelled) because that constitutes disorderly behavior,” he said, citing Article 6 Paragraph 3 of the 1987 Charter.

“It’s only by disorderly behavior that you can expel a member of Congress, either Senate or House of Representatives. And intimidation and blackmail are disorderly behaviors. What are they?” he added.

‘Senate should be abolished’

If he had his way, Veloso said the new federal government should have a unicameral Congress wherein the Senate will no longer exist to avoid duplication of functions and save public resources.

“Well at the end of the day, magastos iyun (bicameral Congress is costly). I will suggest na buwagin na talaga ang Senado (that Senate should be abolished). That will no longer be our initiative. Ang mga tao na mismo ang magpo-propose (The people will be the ones to propose),” he added.

Veleso also said that the country has in recent history not yet produced legal luminaries in the mold of the late senators Jose Diokno, Claro Recto and Jovito Salonga, and vice president Arturo Tolentino.

“Well, I am not really the one who said this. This is just the observation of our colleagues. Look at them. Who are the senators who have the stature of Recto, Tolentino – the brilliant ones – Diokno, Salonga?” he said. - Delon Porcalla

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