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Philippines: Charter change and foreign ownership of land not solution to development
As plenary debates on House Joint Congressional Resolution No. 1, amending the economic provisions of the 1986 Constitution, began today, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello challenged proponents of the resolution to admit that foreign ownership of land is among the main objectives of the proposal.
"We cannot ignore the fact that foreign ownership of land is central to the proposal," Bello said.
"Foreign businesses' ownership and control of land and natural resources in the Philippines will certainly compromise ordinary Filipino people, in the guise of economic development," Bello added.
Bello further pointed out that China, Indonesia and Vietnam, countries that proponents of the resolution mentioned to make the case for doing away with constitutional economic restrictions, in fact have strict restrictions on foreign companies and ban on foreign ownership.
"As shown in the case of China, Indonesia and Vietnam, a constitutional ban on foreign ownership is not a hindrance to dynamic economic development," Bello pointed out.
"It is very important for land to be owned by the Filipino people. This is precisely why we are extra vigilant, we want to ensure that constitutional provisions protecting the right of the people over our resources are not watered down," Bello added.
House must exercise prudence, postpone Charter Change
Bello also warned against the effects of charter change on further weakening, if not obliterating, small and medium scale enterprises, and the effective control of foreign enterprises over important sectors of the economy including electricity, banking, and communication.
"This resolution will make it difficult for small and medium scale enterprises to survive the onslaught of unfettered foreign competition," Bello pointed out.
Bello also made an example of Meralco's anti-consumer behavior as a preview to the behavior of foreign companies should they be given the free hand to control crucial economic sectors.
"It is now common knowledge that Meralco is powered by funds from the Salim group in Indonesia, as managed by Manny Pangilinan. Already, it acts with clear disregard of consumers welfare, with their successive rate hikes and questionable business practices," Bello said.
"Opening up the banking sector to greater foreign control will likewise open our economy to the shocks of the global market. In fact, the only reason why the 2008 financial crisis did not devastate the Philippine economy was because our banking sector was insulated from hot money flows by our laws,” Bello added
According to Bello, the more prudent strategy with respect to economic development should focus on the creation of a strong competition law, easing regulatory bottlenecks in the bureaucratic process, improvements in infrastructure and efforts to reduce poverty, exactly the same priorities of the Aquino administration.
"It is not prudent for Congress to jump right into Charter Change. What we need, and congress is already in the process of fulfilling it, is a strong competition law that will ensure competition and may regulate behavior of foreign firms. We must focus our energies on this before even considering options to amend the constitution," Bello said.
“Changing the constitution is not the solution. Our focus should be on ensuring the rights of the Filipino people over our resources, and on economic policies that will not compromise our fledgling industries, promote competition and ensure the welfare of ordinary Filipino consumers,” Bello concluded.