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Biz groups bashed for ‘flip-flopping’ stand on Cha-cha

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Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Sunday chided the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex) for flip-flopping on amending restrictive provisions of the Constitution to attract more foreign investments.

“MBC and Finex are now against Charter amendments. Before thisposition, they were in favor of changing the Constitution’s economic provisions,” he said.

In a joint statement on Friday, MBC, Finex, and other business groups said they opposed the current House initiative to rewrite the Constitution’s economic provisions.

They cited the high cost of funding a constitutional convention that would propose the amendments, and said the investment promotion campaign of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and recently enacted laws that aim to relax certain economic restrictions were enough.

But Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the opposition from six big business groups echoed the position of “independent-minded members” of the House of Representatives against a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution.

He said he agreed with the business groups that a convention was nottimely as the government has to address more pressing economicproblems of poverty, inflation, and food security.

The huge budget for a convention could better be spent on a “pro-people agenda and reforms.”

He said the recent statutes liberalizing the entry of foreign investments should first be fully implemented before amending the Constitution, he added.

Also over the weekend, Senator Robin Padilla welcomed SpeakerFerdinand Martin Romualdez’s openness to discuss amending the Constitution through a constituent assembly instead of a constitutional convention.

But Rodriguez said the President’s efforts to attract foreign capital “are commendable but are still subject to the limitations of the Constitution, as are recent laws, including the amended Public Service Act.”

“These laws cannot amend the Charter. As for the cost involved, we are trying to keep them to the minimum,” he said.

MBC and Finex favored Charter reform in previous position papers sent to his committee, Rodriguez said.

In a position paper dated Sept. 11, 2019, MBC said it was reiterating its “long-running support” to lift investment restrictions in the Constitution.

“Among other means, we support adding the words ‘unless otherwise provided by law,’ following the constitutional provisions that set the limits on various sectors. In a competitive global economy, we believe in lower barriers to trade and investment in general. In a dynamic global economy, we believe any barriers should be subject to modification by the President and Congress, better than being fixed in the Constitution,” the MBC paper read.

It said a survey among Asean nations, China, and India “shows that while their constitutions may discuss economic principles, specific economic restrictions, and guidelines are left to the legislature.”

“Further economic liberalization will bring in new players and technology, who will boost competition on price and quality, benefiting Filipino consumers,” it said.

Finex, in a letter to the Rodriguez committee on Feb. 17, said it agreed with House members on the need to amend the Charter’s economic provisions, “which have resulted in the most restrictive economic environment among our peer countries and have impeded foreign investments.”

“We note that in almost all countries in the world, restrictions on foreign investments are not contained in their Constitutions. Instead, restrictions on foreign trade and investments are done through legislation or administrative orders that can be changed to suit shifting national priorities,” it said.

Finex at that time also backed the proposed convening of a constitutional convention to propose the amendments.

Rodriguez also cited the Jan. 22, 2021 joint statement of several business organizations, including MBC, Finex, Filipina CEO Circle, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Judicial Reform Initiative, more than a year before the May 2022 elections. Rio N. Araja and Macon Ramos-Araneta

In their statement, the groups urged candidates “to express theirsupport for the relaxation of restrictive economic provisions in our Constitution and commit to initiate steps for the adoption of such provisions within the first 12 months of their term.”

“So, we in the House and some supporters in the Senate are on the right track. We are following the recommendations of these big business groups, including their suggested timeline,” Rodriguez said.

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