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Charter change unnecessary at present, says Zubiri

By: Marlon Ramos - | December 18,2023 - 10:28 AM

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri (Filel photo from the Senate Public Relations and Intelligence Bureau)

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said on Sunday that trying to amend the 1987 Constitution would be futile due to opposition from most colleagues.

Instead, Zubiri, in an interview with dzBB radio, suggested implementing a law from last year to attract foreign investors instead of pursuing constitutional changes for the same economic goals.

“I believe we don’t need any amendment at this particular point in time,” Zubiri said in the program “Bantay Balita sa Kongreso.”

Asked about President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s stand favoring constitutional amendments, the Senate leader said: “I cannot promise to the president [that the Senate will back charter change].”

“Truth to tell, the pulse of the senators is that it’s not time for us to discuss cha-cha [charter change] because we have to prioritize enticing more foreign investments and improv[ing] the ease of doing business,” he said.

Decades-old agenda

Speaker Martin Romualdez on Dec. 12 said his chamber would tackle constitutional amendments next year, focusing on the economic provisions of the Constitution.

Sen. Robin Padilla, another advocate of that decades-old agenda, filed a resolution the next day proposing political amendments as well, notably the extension of terms for elected officials including the senators.

But the Senate has been traditionally opposed to charter change since the early 1970s.

In 1971, President Marcos’ father and namesake called a constitutional convention, through which he was able to extend his rule indefinitely under a new charter that replaced the 1935 Constitution, which had limited the presidency to two four-year terms.



The 1987 Constitution — which replaced the 1973 Constitution of the older Marcos after it was approved in a plebiscite — sought to clip the powers of the presidency after the country’s experience with the Marcos regime. But its economic provisions have been criticized for serving to limit foreign investments in the country.

These provisions can be found in Sections 2, 7, 8, 10, and 11 of Article XII on National Economy and Patrimony which regulate foreign ownership in the country; and Section 11 of Article XVI on General Provisions, which bars foreign interests in the mass media and limits it to 30 percent in any advertising enterprise.

READ MORE: House representatives revive charter change bid again

‘Primary interest’

Marcos said on Dec. 15 that the government was studying the option of amending the Constitution.

“My primary interest is to try and make our country an investment-friendly place,” the president told reporters.

But Zubiri said amending the Constitution would need the support of at least 18 senators.

He noted that many among his colleagues are opposed to it — even the president’s sister, Sen. Imee Marcos.

Zubiri said he respected the speaker’s push for charter change, particularly through people’s initiative, as provided by Section 2 of Article XVII on Amendments or Revisions.

“That is their prerogative,” he said.

According to that constitutional provision — at least 12 percent of the total registered voters, with each legislative district represented by at least 3 percent of their registered voters — may directly propose constitutional amendments.

The other means for constitutional amendments is Section 1 also of Article XVII, under which Congress may call a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members.

The Senate has always maintained that it votes separately from the House of Representatives on any measure, more so constitutional amendments.

40-percent restriction

The Senate leader said it would be better for the government to implement Republic Act No. 11659, which amends the Commonwealth-era Public Service Act (PSA).

The law, which then-President Rodrigo Duterte signed in March 2022, removed the 40-percent restriction on foreign ownership of businesses in key investment areas such as railways, airports, airlines, seaports, and telecommunications.

“Let’s just implement this amended PSA,” Zubiri said.


Robin Padilla —SENATE PRIB

Sen. Robin Padilla (File photo from the Senate Public Relations and Information Bureau)

He also noted that Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual had acknowledged some foreign businesses as having expressed interest in investing in the Philippines after that law was passed.

Zubiri also expressed his opposition to allowing full foreign ownership of lands, saying this would raise prices beyond the means of ordinary Filipinos who aspire to have their own property.

Foreigners should be barred, in particular, from buying agricultural lands.

“That’s a very big no for me,” said the lawmaker from Bukidnon province.

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“I’m not in favor of allowing foreigners to buy lands. Why? As it is now, the lands are already very expensive in our country. If you do that, only the Chinese and other foreign nationals would be able to buy lands while our countrymen could no longer afford to own properties,” he said.


READ MORE: Amending Constitution not a priority – Sen. Imee Marcos

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TAGS: charter change, Constitution, senate

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