Once again, Cha-cha
Once more with feeling, another initiative has been launched at the House of Representatives to amend the Constitution. The latest effort has just hurdled the panel on constitutional amendments. It will still have to go to the committee on rules before being tackled by the plenary.
Senators, reacting with consistency, said the Charter change proposal would be DOA, dead on arrival at the Senate. The mode of amendment – with Congress tackling the changes like ordinary legislation – has been proposed in the past. The two chambers never reached an agreement on the voting mode.
It’s not the first time that Charter change has been proposed to lift economic restrictions in the Constitution to make the country more investment-friendly. As in previous Cha-cha attempts, however, House proponents can’t seem to control the urge to include political changes.
In this case, alongside the economic amendments are proposals for tandem voting of the president and vice president; the extension of the term of office of local government executives to five years from the current three, with three consecutive elections allowed; and regional voting for senators.
Federalism is no longer in the proposal; administration officials have said it is no longer in the agenda of President Duterte during the remainder of his term. If Cha-cha for federalism couldn’t fly, this latest effort has even lower chances of being realized.
The effort, however, has stirred discussions on how to make the country more investment-friendly. Apart from the constitutional restrictions, there are the problems of inadequate infrastructure, a weak regulatory environment, red tape, corruption and peace and order issues. These problems can be addressed without Cha-cha.
These days the investment community is closely watching the fate of the two water concessionaires of Metro Manila. The weakness of the enforcement of contracts in this country has long been among the concerns of investors. That weakness has compelled most private companies doing business with the government to include a clause for international arbitration in case of a dispute over the terms of a contract. If a new administration feels the country has been shortchanged and won’t honor the decisions of the arbitral court, it must present a viable alternative to contract dispute resolution. This also does not require Cha-cha.
If the intent of the latest Cha-cha initiative is to improve the economic environment, lawmakers must work just as zealously on simpler measures to achieve that objective.