PHILIPPINES: Makabayan bloc protests railroading of charter amendments

Friday 16 May 2014

Date: 15 May 2014 Type: News Source: Bulatlat.com Keywords: charter change

MANILA – “It is treasonous to remove the remaining protection on Philippine economy and patrimony in the face of the rapacious big foreign capital. Instead of opening the economy to further foreign control, ownership and plunder, we must develop and strengthen our own economy. We must protect and develop our agriculture and persevere in industrializing the nation and not sell it out,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said.

Progressive party-list groups are opposing Resolution of Both Houses # 1 (RHB #1), a bill that seeks to amend key economic provisions in the Constitution.

“This is the start of the second round of the Cha-cha express and we will again try to stop this sell out of Philippine patrimony and sovereignty. We must oppose this with all our might as a nation because we would be reduced as second class citizens in our own country. With Cha-cha, transnational corporations can own almost anything and everything in the Philippines,” Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said.

In a plenary session last May 13, 2014, Davao Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano, chairperson of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said in her sponsorship that they “overwhelmingly approved” RHB1 at the committee level because the amendment would purportedly be beneficial to the people, that economic policies are best left to legislation and that it is constitutional to amend the constitution by enacting a law.

Albano said that “by freeing the people from the monopolistic activities of the rich Filipino elite, the exercise of such power will be one of the most nationalistic and patriotic acts that this institution can do. Economic nationalism should not promote the welfare of the small minority of rich countrymen at the expense of the poor, large majority.”

Albano added that while “the Constitution indeed mandates a bias in favor of Filipino goods, services, labor and enterprises, at the same time, it recognizes the need for business exchange with the rest of the world on the basis of equality and reciprocity and limits protection of Filipino enterprises only against foreign competition and trade practices that are unfair.”

“I am hoping that by introducing the phrase ‘unless otherwise provided by law’ to provisions of foreign ownership restriction in our constitution, we can provide the key that will unlock the barriers to the entry of needed foreign investments and the creation of jobs,” Albano said.

Ridon, however, countered, “By inserting the phrase ‘unless otherwise specified by law’ in clauses that set certain limits on foreign ownership of several industries, RHB # 1 essentially destroys the standards and limitations set by the 1987 Constitution. If passed, RHB # 1 would subject the Constitution to the whims and caprices of the ruling party in Congress.”

Economic policies

Albano said there is “lack of opportunities and investments available in the country to generate employment.”

She said Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand copied the Board of Investment structure in the Philippines but “did not incorporate the complex nationalistic lines that favored domestic enterprises.”

“They simply allowed full foreign capital participation in their own industrial development programs by permitting 100 percent foreign equity investments to receive incentives,” Albano added.

In a previous Bulatlat.com report, Colmenares said there is no study that could prove that foreign direct investments would improve people’s lives.

“Is it really the entry of foreign investments that enable these countries to develop? What if there were other measures that spurred their development such as land reform, eradication of corruption or national industrialization? What if foreign investments increased because they were already developed?” Colmenares said.

Citing the experience of countries such as China, Taiwan and Japan, Colmenares said they implemented national industrialization before allowing foreign investors in.

Ibon Foundation, for its part, said that there is a global trend that is pushing for more protectionist policies, adding that 2,141 protectionist economic policies have been implemented in countries such as the United States, Germany, Russia, India, European countries, among others.

Ridon, said economic liberalization would be “disastrous to the Philippine economy.”

“The main argument of those advocating for cha-cha is that they will use it to lift constitutional limits to foreign ownership. This amendment, they say, would then lead to the generation of more foreign direct investments and would stimulate economic growth. However, this could be the farthest thing from the truth,” Ridon said.

“If we lift the current restrictions, local enterprises and businesses would suffer due to the unrestrained dominance of foreign investors. Lifting the economic limits would also open the floodgates for further exploitation of our country’s scarce natural resources, including forests and mineral reserves,” Ridon said.

Vencer Crisostomo, chairperson of Anakbayan, said, “at present, most of the people suffer under Aquino’s wicked scheme of liberalization, privatization and deregulation. Cha-cha will only turn things to worst.”

Chacha, EDCA and TPPA

In a statement, Ridon said that EDCA, a newly-signed military pact between the US and the Philippines, is not US President Barack Obama’s sole agenda when he visited the country last week.

Ridon said charter change is being pushed by the US as a requisite to Philippine membership to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a new economic deal being negotiated by the US with 11 Asian countries.

“Currently, the Philippines is not part of the TPPA. Obama’s visit to the Philippines may have bolstered the Aquino administration’s yearning to take part in the said agreement, and that yearning has a precondition: charter change,” Ridon said.

“With the military pact already inked, there is no doubt that the US is now compelling the Philippine government to railroad cha-cha to pave the way for Philippine inclusion in the TPP,” Ridon said.

He added that while Aquino has been making it appear that his administration has got nothing to do with the railroading of the proposed charter change, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima recently said that the Philippines has little choice but to amend the Constitution to qualify for TPP.

“After allowing the US to re-occupy the Philippines through the EDCA, the Aquino government now wants to sell the entire country to foreign big capitalists by removing what’s left of the protective economic provisions of the 1987 constitution” Roger Soluta, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno, said.

Increase in rates, prices

“Current moves of the House of Representatives to railroad the amendments to the economic provisions of the Philippine Constitution, through Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 are very likely to make water and electricity bills more exorbitant for poor and middle class consumers,” Gabriela Women’s Party said in a statement.

Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Rep. Emmi De Jesus, however, challenged the veracity of the conclusion that allowing foreign capital will dismantle monopolistic activities of the rich Filipino elite.

“Particularly for the energy sector, foreign capital has already eaten up major electricity and oil exploration businesses, and yet they collude as a cartel to charge monopoly prices and control supply and demand swings,” De Jesus said.

De Jesus said foreign ownership of public utilities, for one, could lead to increase in rates.

“The recent expose’s on how these government agencies such as the Energy Regulatory Commission and the MWSS legitimize rate hikes and sacrificed consumers for the sake of profits of firms that are already partially foreign-owned should make us worry about the promises made by Charter Change proponents about supposed cheaper services,” De Jesus said.

Citing the case of Maynilad back in 2004, De Jesus added that the government bailed out when it failed to pay the French company that owns 40 percent of its shares.

“If foreigners keep acquiring public utilities and their demands for profits make the products unaffordable resulting in business failures, then taxpayers will keep on bailing them out just to avoid stopping a major need such as water supply,” De Jesus said.

Protest against Chacha

During the plenary session, members of progressive youth groups held a protest action to oppose charter change.

“We demand to stop the passage of Charter Change in both the House and Senate! This would only aggravate the plunder of our national resources and further the exploitation of our labor force,” Charlotte Velasco, national spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students, exclaimed.

“The lazy, negligent Amboy president Noynoy should have some backbone. If he’s really sincere in serving the people, then he should stand for the Filipino people’s interest and stop licking the boot of the US,” Velasco said.

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