Written by Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz
FOREIGN investors are keenly awaiting the outcome of the Charter- Change (Cha-cha) initiatives in both houses of Congress to relax the foreign-ownership restrictions in the country, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said.
Belmonte said he has been getting numerous inquiries and visits from foreign business chambers in relation to the developments on the Cha-cha front.
He said the foreign-ownership restrictions in the Constitution are really hindering the flow of investments into the country; and even the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has recognized this, as the agency is also being bugged by concerns on this issue.
“Definitely, as I mentioned to you, I noted in the headline of one of the newspapers [BusinessMirror’s June 10, 2014 issue] that the DTI is in favor of our proposal. This is because they could not avoid talking about it [Cha-cha] because of the series of meetings with the foreign chambers,” Belmonte said in a news conference.
Under Article XII of the Constitution, foreign investors are prohibited to own more than 40 percent of real properties and certain businesses. They are also totally restricted to undertake certain business ventures in the country, including owning any company in the media industry.
Belmonte has already filed Houses Resolution 1, which was replicated by Sen. Ralph Recto in the Senate, seeking to amend economic provisions on the 60-40 rule that limits foreign ownership of certain activities in the Philippines.
The resolution seeks to include the phrase “unless provided by law” in the foreign-ownership provision of the Constitution, particularly land ownership, public utilities, natural resources, media and advertising industries.
Belmonte said he recently had talks with European Union (EU) and United States representatives and companies to discuss the restriction on the entry of foreign investments into the country.
“The first [meeting] is [with] the US companies that are involved in the Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], then followed by the EU companies that want to invest in the Philippines. A lot of them are very interested in it [relaxing restriction on foreign ownership] because what we want really is real investment…foreign direct investments, which would be creating jobs and also creating economic opportunities for the country,” Belmonte said.
Foreign investors, he said, are closely monitoring the developments in the Cha-cha initiative because they also want to fully acquire properties where they will put up their business.
According to Belmonte, the 16th Congress is prioritizing Cha-cha, with the lower chamber as the main proponent of the measure. Senators would still wait for the House version once it passes the third reading.
The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments said the committee report is now being prepared to be presented in the plenary for the second reading when second regular session starts on July 28.
The amendments to the Charter will be approved through separate voting by both Chambers, with a three-fourths vote required from them.
He reminded that growth has shifted from the West to the East and investors are now interested to bring their money to Asia.
Afraid of P-Noy’s rejection
BELMONTE, however, admitted that he did not yet consult President Aquino on the Cha-cha initiative because he is afraid that this might be rejected.
“Have I talked to the President about this Cha-cha? The fact of the matter is that I have not. Dahil baka, sabihin niya sa akin, ‘No!’ Di mapipilitan akong magsabing ‘stop.’ Oo, natatakot ako. [Because he might tell me ‘No!’ Then I would be forced to say ‘stop!’ Yes, I am afraid.] So I said, ‘Let’s go ahead and do our thing,’” Belmonte said.
The Speaker also said there is no rule mandating Congress to ask permission from the President first, saying Cha-cha should be submitted to the people through referendum or plebiscite.
The Palace has maintained its stance against Cha-cha until 2016, saying the Congress is wasting time on it.
Belmonte said he hopes President Aquino will not actively campaign against the passage of the Cha-cha.
He added that he is confident that members of the ruling Liberal Party at the lower chamber will join him in passing the resolution.
Belmonte also assured the public the amendments are purely for the economic provisions, saying he will not allow any member to insert any provision other than what is specified in his resolution.
BELMONTE said he is planning to incorporate a plebiscite for Cha-cha with the 2016 national and local elections.
Belmonte said the government may hold the plebiscite for Cha-cha alongside the 2016 national elections instead of spending a separate election next year, which needs at least P7 billion.
He also said most Filipino voters are participating during presidential elections. According to the Commission on Elections, the highest turnout of voting population participating in a particular election is during presidential elections.
“Instead of having a separate plebiscite, I am now thinking how we can have it ride for instance in the next elections,” Belmonte said, adding, “doing it that way, it will be well discussed because a lot of people will be talking about it.”
AS the unemployment rate in the country is increasing, Makati Business Club Chairman Ramon del Rosario Jr. is also pushing for the amendments of the Constitution, particularly the economic provisions to attract foreign direct investments.
Del Rosario, addressing the House of Representatives meeting with the Joint Foreign Chambers and Philippine business groups, said the government should consider changes in the provisions of the Constitution that restrict complete foreign ownership of estates and corporations.
According to him the government should address the increasing unemployment rate, as he considers it as “a very serious issue” and a “more serious crisis than Supertyphoon Yolanda.”
“We really need to put everything we’ve got together to try and address this issue, including things like looking at our Constitution and what are the restrictions there that impede the inflow of investments into our economy,” he said. “Because to create jobs, you really need investments. Let us open up those areas of our economy, such as mining, which is still at a standstill, where more employment can be created.”
MEANWHILE, Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna said the proposed Cha-cha would only open the gates for lobby money of big foreign corporations in Congress and Malacañang.
He also denounced the participation in the country’s internal affairs, particularly in constitutional matters, of the American, European and other foreign chambers of commerce.
“The foreign powers are the spearhead of the pro-imperialist and anti-Filipino Charter-change but they cannot do it without the consent of the President and Congress serving as a willing tool,” he said.