Cha-cha is inclusion

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

People may not realize it, but Charter change is all about inclusion. It is to mainstream Filipinos who are at society’s rough edges, those denied basic services government is mandated by law and by the Constitution to render or deliver.

Section 9 of Article II of the 1987 Constitution clearly says so:

“The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living and an improved quality of life for all.”

The old Central Bank Act of 1949 had almost the same mandate – to promote a rising level of production, income and employment. Sadly, that mandate is gone in the present Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, itself a product of bankruptcy.

In 2023, poverty incidence was pegged at 22.4 percent, the ratio of poor Filipinos whose per capita income is not sufficient to meet their basic food and non-food needs, or 25.24 million Filipinos. Additionally, more than 30 million Filipinos are jobless.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), a family of five members will need at least P13,797 per month to meet their minimum basic food and non-food needs in first sem 2023. That is not being met.

On the other hand, “subsistence incidence among Filipinos or the proportion of Filipinos whose income is not enough to buy even the basic food needs was registered at 8.7 percent or about 9.79 million Filipinos in first sem 2023. On the average, the monthly food threshold for a family of five in the same period was estimated at P 9,550,” says PSA. Even this lower figure is not being met.

Why the abject poverty of Filipinos?

Simple answer: inadequate production or supply of food (particularly rice, corn, fish, vegetables) and other basic necessities, including drinking water, electricity and yes, connectivity (cell phones, WiFi, mass transit, digital banking).

Food is 50 percent of an average household’s expenditures (55 percent if you are very poor); rice alone is 15 percent. The Philippines produces the world’s most expensive rice, double the production cost of major world producers. It also imports the biggest volume of rice – 3.6 million tons in 2023 alone.

Why the inadequate production of basic things? Simple answer: lack of or inadequate investments – in farm development, in irrigation, in processing and storage facilities, in farm-to-market roads. If you buy rice directly from the farmer, it costs only about P20 per kilo. If you buy rice in public markets, it costs P45 to P60 per kilo.

Investments as a percent of value of Philippine economic output or GDP has been two percent, or even less. The average for ASEAN is 4.5 percent; for entire Asia, 5.1 percent. The ideal for ASEAN is 5.2 percent or $16 trillion over the next ten years. Since the Philippine population is a quarter of ASEAN’s, then we need $4 trillion in investments over the next ten years. We won’t get that, unless we change our rules.

How has the Philippines been doing in terms of foreign investments? Well, poorly. The country gets the smallest amount of FDI among the large member-countries of ASEAN.

In fact, the Philippines exports more capital than the amounts of investments it attracts. Our large corporations invest abroad, rather than in the Philippines, with San Miguel Corp. probably the only exception (SMC reinvests most of its earnings locally).

The net direct investments in the Philippines in recent years, per BSP data, are all negative since 2014: -$100 million in 2015; -$5.8 billion in 2016; -$6.9 billion 2017; -$5.8 billion in 2018; -$5.3 billion in 2019; -$3.26 billion in 2020; -$9.73 billion in 2021; -$5.38 billion in 2022. These are staggering amounts, money leaving the Philippines yearly.

Investors don’t want to come to the Philippines. And those already doing business in the country are bringing out money by the billions. Why? In the case of foreign investors, they cite restrictions in the 1987 Constitution. Ownership of land, schools, media, advertising and certain portions of natural resources and utilities are banned from foreigners.

In the case of local investors, they cite red tape and massive corruption. In both instances, the Philippines gets a double whammy, a tragedy that hurts most people big time. This has been going on for decades.

At the launch of Bagong Pilipinas on Sunday, Jan. 29, President Marcos Jr. vowed to cut red tape and sloth in governance. And arrogance (sungit).

For its part, the House of Representatives wants to amend the Constitution. Through popular initiative.  It is asking the people: Do you want Charter change? If 12 percent of voters, or 8 million, say yes, the Comelec is asked to ratify the results, and the House then proceeds to amend the Constitution.

Of course, the Senate is saying “No, you cannot do that.” So the Upper House conducts an investigation. In response, the Comelec decides to suspend the signature campaign. Actually, there is no more need for gathering more signatures. The 12 percent of total voters (8 million) has been reached; so is the three percent of voters’ consent in every district. So stopping the signature campaign is like sending fire trucks after the fire is gone.

Meanwhile, President Marcos Jr. will have a chance to explain his views on the Constitution, Charter change, the economic outlook and perhaps the drugs situation on Feb. 8, 2024, during Constitution Day, with the theme, “The Constitution, Ang Bagong Pilipinas,” under the auspices of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC).

The milestone event is now set for early dinner, 5:30 p.m.

For bookings for the by-invitation Constitution Day, please contact MOPC 0920-204-9229, or email  [email protected]

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Email: [email protected]

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