Congress leaders push RH bill passage, Charter amendment-A A +A
Monday, July 23, 2012
MANILA (4th Update, 12:42 p.m.) -- House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. urged his colleagues in Congress Monday to finally put the Reproductive Health (RH) bill to a vote and amend economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution.
“I think it’s time that we finally put it (RH bill) to a vote. Let the chips fall where they may,” he said Monday, as he opened the last session of the 15th Congress.
The third regular session opened 10 a.m., hours before President Benigno Aquino III delivers his third State of the Nation Address (Sona).
The Speaker also emphasized the need to amend economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution to encourage investments and increase employment.
Belmonte said Congress should take the first step toward relaxing the economic provisions of the Constitution by defining foreign participation and the nationality requirement in sectors of the economy.
“It is high time that we revisit the economic provisions of the Constitution which, to my mind, restrict our economic progress and growth,” he said, as he addressed members of the chamber.
“I cannot overemphasize the fact that we need more investments to create more jobs. More investments include more foreign investments. We need to bring in the capital and technologies that will keep our workers productively employed. We also need a bigger market to allow us to produce more and maximize the productive use of our resources,” he added.
(Photos by Glaiza Jarloc of Sunnex)
Speaker Belmonte recently met with Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile to discuss the future of Charter change (Cha-cha) in the present Congress.
But Malacañang said Cha-cha is not a priority of the Aquino administration. It is also facing heavy opposition among members of the House of Representatives.
However, Enrile maintained that he and Belmonte only wanted to amend the economic provisions that limit foreign ownership in the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources.
“To do that, we are proposing to grant Congress the delegated power to look at the ratio of Filipino participation as against foreign participation when the need arises and we have a formula for that which is going to be very simple and this was discussed with the leadership of the House of Representatives,” Enrile said.
At present, Filipinos should own at least 60 percent of any corporation, leaving foreigners to only 40-percent share.
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.
Under the proposal of House Committee on Constitutional Amendments chairman Loreto Leo Ocampos, he said Congress should consider eight revisions to attract foreign investments.
These include: 1) removing the 60 û 40 percent equity limitations; 2) removing control and management exclusively by Filipinos in companies with foreign equity; 3) expanding the role of foreign investors in the exploration of natural resources, 4) allowing foreign ownership of industrial lands, 5) allowing foreign investments in media, 6) allowing foreigners to practice their profession in accordance with the principle of reciprocity, 7) allowing foreign investment in tertiary education, and 8) extending the 25 + 25 land lease agreement.
“The productive capabilities and resources of our country need to be unleashed û not shackled by a constitutional straightjacket that denies from our people the benefits that can flow from expanding access to their utilization by Filipinos and foreigners under such terms that will continue to preserve the national patrimony for the well-being of the Filipino,” Belmonte said.
“We are going to discuss this with the President. He is the Chief Executive of the country and he's entitled to know and be informed,” Enrile said in a chance interview.
The RH bill, on the other hand, is still pending for second reading approval, while the FOI is still at the committee level.
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II earlier suggested that the House leadership convene a caucus where members can set a definite schedule on the voting -- at least -- of the termination of plenary debates on the RH bill.
According to its sponsors, the proposed law will help resolve the lack of access to reproductive health and family planning education and services among women, especially the poor.
In an ambush interview, RH author Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said the House leadership must remain firm in its commitment to have the divisive bill approved despite the lack of Aquino’s endorsement of the measure.
“I am positive we have the vote but it would be much better if the President would really make a black and white endorsement for those who are still ambivalent,” he added.
At the Senate, the status of the controversial bill is heading for approval on second reading after the chamber ended the debates in early June.
“In the next couple of days, or months perhaps, I also foresee discussion on measures that have been cause for intense debate. The RH bill is one of these rare measures in the Senate that has been a magnet of philosophical musings and emotional sentiments from various sectors,” Enrile said during the opening of the last session of the present Congress.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, one of the sponsors of the bill aside from Senator Pia Cayetano, was on sick leave when Enrile made the announcement. Santiago is reportedly suffering from colds.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, an administration ally, was also absent because he is still in Geneva, Switzerland, to join a gathering of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Belmonte, meanwhile, said the government should prioritize infrastructure spending in the 2013 national budget and complement this with amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law to facilitate private sector participation.
The Budget department is proposing a budget of P2.006 trillion for next year.
The House Speaker also vowed to prioritize the passage of the Anti-Trust Act, the Fiscal Responsibility Act; an Open Skies policy; amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, Government Procurement Reform Act, and the charters of the National Electrification Administration, and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
The Senate, for its part, has passed 47 bills and acted upon 283 other measures filed since the 15th Congress began last July 2010.
The senators are expected to hear Aquino's Sona on Monday afternoon at the Batasan Pambansa.
Assigned to welcome the President at the plenary of the House of Representatives in Quezon City are Senators Loren Legarda, Franklin Drilon, Ralph Recto, Panfilo Lacson and Pia Cayetano. (Kathrina Alvarez/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)