President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday defended his decision to review his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s devolution order of national government functions to local government units, saying it is not an “alternative” to the proposed Charter change agenda.
Speaking to reporters, the President said he is only worried that poorer municipalities would not be able to handle the additional functions under Duterte’s full devolution order despite an increase in their internal revenue allotment share (IRA).
“No. The Charter change efforts are directed at the economic provisions of the Constitution, as far as I understand. So that’s what that is about,” he said on the sidelines of the celebration of the Philippine Army’s 126th anniversary in Taguig City.
“The reason given by the proponents in the House and those in the Senate is that they need to be changed because these conditions have changed. For us to take full advantage of the new economy, we have to amend the Constitution. So, that’s not the same thing as what I think you are referring to,” Mr. Marcos added.
Meanwhile, in a Senate hearing on Charter change, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile cited the need to amend the strict economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution to allow more foreign investors into the country.
Enrile, a former Senate President, also recommended a Constitutional Assembly (Con-ass) and not a Constitutional Convention (Con-con) as the mode of amending the Constitution.
He noted that the election of delegates and the operation of a Con-con is costly and warned that those elected might have no knowledge of the government.
Enrile also raised the possibility the Con-con delegates could be used as “instruments” by the incumbents who want to hold on to their political powers.
Mr. Marcos presided over a sectoral meeting in Malacañan Palace on Tuesday and ordered government agencies to study Executive Order No. 138, issued by Duterte, for possible amendments, and to determine what national government functions should be devolved to LGUs following the Mandanas-Garcia ruling of the Supreme Court.
Aside from re-examining the former President’s EO 138, Mr. Marcos said there is also a House bill seeking the reclassification of LGUs.
On Tuesday, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman said President Marcos asked a development panel to review possible amendments on the devolution of functions of LGUs before the Mandanas ruling takes effect.
Under EO 138, the transition period before fully implementing the devolution of projects to LGUs is until 2024.
As for Charter change, “we need this because our country has no capital to improve the lives of the majority of our people,” Enrile said, stressing he was speaking in his personal capacity and not as legal counsel of President Marcos, whom he advised about his attendance in the Senate.
He is also confident that the Supreme Court might reject the Public Service Act amid the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) issued recently by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
Earlier, Senator Robin Padilla, Constitutional Amendments committee chairperson, asked Enrile about his views on the IRR issued by NEDA.
The majority of the senators insisted that the PSA will be among the three laws enacted by Congress that can compensate for the absence of Charter change.
Under the PSA, 100 percent foreign ownership will be allowed for public services like airports, railways, expressways, and telecommunications, contrary to the provision in the Constitution which provides for foreign ownership of up to 40 percent for public utilities.
Enrile said this can be changed by amending the Constitution.
If the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” is inserted into the economic provisions of the Constitution, the 60-40 policy can be temporarily removed to make 100 percent foreign ownership in selected services.
Enrile also pointed out that in the Constitution, the “ultimate legal organ” of Filipino society, enacted laws cannot be ignored and modified through a constituent assembly, constitutional convention, or people’s initiative.
The presidential counsel also suggested removing in the Constitution the provision which prohibits the country to have nuclear weapons.
In the modern world, he noted that nuclear weapons are “the protection of small countries against superpowers.” It will also ensure that their nationals will not become “tuta” (lapdogs) of superpower.
Having nuclear weapons also means the procurement of aircraft, battleships, and cannons for the security of a country, said Enrile, also a former Defense secretary.