Saturday, July 14, 2012

Aquino open to hear proposals on Charter change

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III said Thursday that he is willing to listen to proposals of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on amending the 1987 Constitution. In a chance interview with the media in Pasay City, President Aquino said he is not totally closing his doors to Charter change and he is open to hear all points about it. "We are in a democracy. We have to listen to different ideas and come up with what is best for the people," Aquino said. The President said he still has doubts on the gains the country could get if the Constitution is amended. He noted that the government is capable of reaching economic heights even without changing the economic provisions of the Constitution. In an earlier interview in Malacanang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said advocates of Charter change in Congress should work harder to convince the President on the need and urgency of amending the Constitution. Valte said Aquino has not changed his position on Charter change and it remains not a priority of his administration. The Palace spokesperson said Enrile and Belmonte "will have to make a case for it to the President" if they want to pursue Charter amendments. "How they will convince him and what are the parameters, we cannot say. Whether he will be convinced, we cannot say also at this time," she added. Valte said even if the President is not favorable to Charter change, the Palace could not dictate on Congress not to push for amending the Constitution since it is an independent branch of government. "That would be up to them on how they would want to move. You know the Speaker and the Senate President are leaders of an independent branch. While we really are big on inter-branch cooperation, there are still matters that are left best to their autonomy and to their jurisdiction," she said. "Nobody has made out a case of urgency that the country cannot function if we cannot do constitutional amendments. If you see the past two years that the President has spent in office, he has been able to implement the reforms that he wants without any constitutional amendments," she said. But Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said budget deliberations and preparations for the 2013 midterm elections will effectively frustrate efforts to change the Constitution this year. While she is not keen on supporting such measure, Santiago said the earliest that it can be taken up by both chambers of Congress will be after the election of new set of public officials in May 2013. "You just have no time. You cannot push the Chacha (Charter change) initiative in a manner that will go around the need for full-bodied consideration. It's not an ordinary law. It is the constitution of the Philippines," she told reporters. Enrile earlier said there is a need to change the Constitution to enhance the country's military capability in light of the territorial dispute with China over the resource-rich Scarborough Shoal. His counterpart in the House of Representatives, Belmonte also gave his support to the initiative but that will only be prioritized if Aquino is on board. Santiago, chairperson of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, meanwhile, found the 40-percent cap on foreign ownership of land and public utilities as reason behind the movement. Some economists said this provision in the Constitution is protectionist, making the Philippines less attractive to foreign investors compared to Southeast Asian neighbors like Vietnam and Indonesia that have opened up their economies. "Certain corporations, who are interested in the natural resources of our country, want to invest here but they want to own the whole thing. They don't want to give the 40 percent to the Filipinos. They want total freedom to control their corporation in the repatriation of their profits to the own home countries," Santiago said. Belmonte and Enrile reportedly both agreed that a bicameral constituent assembly is the best manner of pushing for amendments. Party-list group Akbayan, however, is open to amend the Constitution if it’s by way of a constitutional convention and if provisions such as those that limit foreign ownership of land and property are not weakened. "Allowing foreign investors to control more than 40 percent of our industries will not solve the country’s poverty. Truth is, it will only worsen poverty by further concentrating wealth among the elite, domestic and/or foreign," Akbayan spokesperson Risa Hontiveros said. Malacañang, meanwhile, said Aquino has no plan to extend his term as President through Charter change. "We have definitively said that the President is very aware of the term that he has -- six years -- no more, no less," she said. Valte said Aquino will preside a Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) after his State of the Nation Address but the Palace is not certain whether Charter change would be included in the agenda. (Jill Beltran/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)