Thursday, June 11, 2009

What has not been emphasized about the issue of Charter Change?

This photo is borrowed from

I cannot blame the people from criticizing legislators who are pro-Charter Change, pro-Con-Ass because of the big possibility of term extensions for most of them but what the people failed to see is the second reason and perhaps the most dangerous reason why the Administration legislators are so eager to tinker with the Philippine Constitution. Actually, it is to lift the nationalist provisions that protect our economy that they wanted out of our Constitutional framework. They also wanted to accommodate 100% foreign ownership of lands, businesses, corporations, etc. I believe we should readily say no to these proposed provision as much as we opposed to the mode of changing the Constitution, which is the Constituent Assembly, term extensions and the sudden shift from the Presidential to the Parliamentary form of Government

According to some of my readings, the Philippine Constitution contains strong restrictions against the flow of foreign capital in specific areas of economic activities. Primarily, these provisions are protecting our land, natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, media and even the conduct of advertising. Come to think of it during interviews, Rep. Prospero Nograles, Speaker of the House always denies that term extension is the primary goal of Congress why they are in pursuit of changing the Constitution. It is to open our economy, welcome investments to come in by allowing 100% foreign ownership.

This is what the people failed to realize and even the media has not been explaining this in their news and current affairs programs. What is truly at stake here is our economy. The House is moving heaven and earth to change the Constitution because they believe that lifting the nationalist provision would mean economic growth (and would also mean good business for them). The Philippines have already liberalized some parts of our economy, trade and industries. They even want the agricultural sector to be open to liberalization and have our farmers compete in the global market. But with the current state of our agricultural sector with almost no support from the government, how can our farmers compete in the global market? Agricultural imports have less prices because of subsidies and support from their governments and because of almost free trading (so little tariffs have been imposed).

Over the years, the liberalization of some parts of our economy did not prove to be beneficial to our people. Poverty in the Philippines has become worse. Why, just observe the number of Filipinos who turn to overseas work just to survive and live decently instead of having this as an option and the number of school children who transfer to public schools because of high tuition fees in private schools.

The problem with this country is that our economic managers have so much belief in neoliberal economic policies - liberalization, deregulation and privatization - when they already failed to bring people out of poverty.

One example that made us worse is the Oil Deregulation Law wherein the government has lost control over the prices of oil. This is the very same law we fought during the 90s, Ramos Administration. Our officials passed it. Now, some are questioning the law including our poor public transport drivers. In my talks with taxi drivers, not only one but most of them shared with me their frustrations about what is happening and that the real culprit to this uncontrollable and unpredictable prices of oil is the Oil Deregulation Law. The role of the government now is simply to monitor the prices and once in awhile call the attention of the three big oil companies, play the hero and lambast them in front of the media then that's it. There is no political will to look deeper into this problem. What DOE Sec. Angelo Reyes and NEDA Chief Ralph Recto did is to argue about the prices of oil in the media "papogi" period.

Another example is privatization. This government has the habit of selling its assets and privatizing them like what they did to the MWSS wherein there are two concessionaires - Maynilad and Manila Waters - that provide the service. Ideally, water services should be handled by the state because this is a public utility, it is one of those basic needs of people to live decently and have readily available and safe drinking water. What the government did was to entrust this important utility to corporations whose primary concern is to earn more profit and not public service. Connection fees to pipes for water is a staggering Php7,000.00. Our urban poor communities cannot afford that. Because of this, they depend instead on rations when in fact water should be free for all. It is our right to access, have clean and safe water. The same way as Meralco, although I do not have an idea whether state ownership or a combination of state and private ownership would work for Meralco, but the government should be able to ensure affordable power services for its people.

It should always be public service first before profit for public utilties, therefore, it should become under the control of the state because it should its primarily role is to provide for its people and not to feed them to the wolves.

As much as our public utilities should be state-owned, our educational institutions, media companies and hospitals should be likewise. So that all of us especially the poor can avail of free and improved education and healthcare. If Cuba, a third world country like the Philippines did it, we can also.

While it is true that we needed some changes in our Constitution, I believe that this is not the proper time, the appropriate mode to do it. If we really want genuine economic growth for our country, then we should do it all together, not just the officials only. This is tantamount to deciding on behalf of the nation. It is their right to be consulted on these matters and not decide on their lives on their behalf. We should prepare for it.

For now, the nationalist, protectionist provisions to our economy are to remain because they are there for a reason. It is to protect our lands - these are for our farmers, to protect our natural resources from exploitation (we should stop the government from promoting extractive industries like mining), to protect our national sovereignty because if foreign capital would reign on Philippine soil, we know for a fact that they who have the money can dictate and control our government, they can easily manipulate our laws against us.

How can they do that? Well, it is easy. All they have to do is to conspire with our local officials who most often than not have vested interest that's why they remain in the position.

Sad to say, for now, we have a TRAPO government in our midst.

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