Revisiting economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution

Posted by watchmen
February 20, 2024
Posted in Better Days, OPINION


By Sonny Angara

Over three decades have passed since the 1987 Constitution was ratified. It was crafted immediately after a regime change that emerged after a peaceful revolution. A lot has changed over the years. Globally, countries have opened up their economies as a necessary step towards growth. Our ASEAN neighbors, who were once behind us, have overtaken us after recognizing the importance of opening their doors to progress. This reality is not lost to many Filipinos, particularly to the members of Congress who have forwarded various proposals to amend the Charter from the early 90s to this day.

Whenever there is talk about amending the Constitution, it always draws strong reactions from all sides. For those who are lukewarm or opposed to Charter Change, a lot of this is based on suspicions about the motives and a lack of trust in the personalities pushing for Charter Change. While many of the proposals initially present amendments to the economic provisions, most of the time these end up being mixed with the tinkering of the political provisions, specifically on tweaking the term limits of elected officials. This has been the main stumbling block to amending the Constitution, regardless of the personalities backing the proposals.

On January 15, 2024, Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 was filed in the Senate, which seeks to amend select economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution. The proposed amendments cover Article XII (National Patrimony and Economy) on foreign ownership of public utilities; Article XIV (Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports) on the participation of foreign entities in higher education; and Article XVI (General Provisions) on foreign investments in advertising. Our Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, together with Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda and I authored RBH No. 6.

We were designated as chairman of the subcommittee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes to take up RBH No. 6 as the Senate President wanted a lawyer to head the hearings on this important measure. We thank the chairman of the mother committee, Senator Robinhood Padilla, for supporting the creation of the subcommittee to hear RBH No.6 and the hearings are always done in coordination with the good chairman. In the first hearing, we invited a who’s who in the legal profession including former Chief Justice Hilario Davide; former Supreme Court Justices Adolfo Azcuna and Vicente Mendoza; former Comelec Chairman Christian Monsod; Dr. Gerardo Sicat; former Finance Secretary Margarito Teves; and Sonny Africa of the IBON Foundation. Many of the names mentioned here were also framers of the 1987 Constitution and hearing their insights into the issue at hand was both enlightening and educational.

In the second hearing on RBH No. 6, we took a deep dive into the restrictive provision on foreign ownership of public utilities in the Constitution. Just like the first hearing, we had as our resource persons former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio; National Scientist Raul Fabella; framers of the Constitution Rene Sarmiento and Bernardo Villegas; representatives from the foreign chambers of commerce; political scientist Dr. Clarita Carlos; and officials of the Department of Trade and Industry, National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Finance, Department of Information and Communication Technology, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Philippine Competition Commission.

Unlike ordinary laws, amending the Constitution is never easy. If we look at the experience of the United States for instance, around 11,000 amendments have been proposed over a span of 200 years, of which only 27 have been adapted, based on a paper submitted to us by former Comelec Commissioner Sarmiento. In our case, the House of Representatives pointed out that around 358 proposals have been submitted over the last 37 years and none have succeeded.

In the coming weeks, we will go into the provisions on education and advertising, and as suggested by the Senate President, we will also be scheduling public hearings in select cities around the country. From what we have heard in the two hearings and the sentiments coming from our fellow senators, the opinions are split, be it on the need to amend the economic provisions or the timing of exercise. What is important with what we are doing right now, whether it will be successful or not, is that we are finally tackling the economic provisions in a very focused and transparent manner before the public. It is an educational process for our people. Hopefully, what we are doing here will make our people more informed about our Constitution and what it means to them. We want to see them discussing the proposed amendments and have a debate among themselves because in the end, they will be deciding on the fate of the entire process.



Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 19 years — 9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 10 as Senator. He has authored, co-authored, and sponsored more than 330 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.



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