Deliberating on Charter change

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

As the Philippine Senate continues its deliberation on economic Charter change, it was nice to see and hear Dr. Bernie Villegas as resource person, not to mention a notable framer, as described by Senator Sonny Angara, of our Constitution. If one will recall, I had previously mentioned that I am a forever student when it comes to learning about constitutional reform and to date, I am in a continuous learning cycle when it comes to the subject.

Indeed, it is important to take great care and, as even Senator Grace Poe put it so cleverly, “kailangan nating suyurin ng maigi ang pag amyenda ng ating 37-year-old Constitution.” There really is so much to safeguard and, on the other hand, so much we still need to protect in terms of our own identity as a nation and, having said this, Dr. Villegas particularly made a strong impact in terms of how I (we ) can further approach the issue of Charter change.

In his reaction to the statements of Senators Poe, Hontiveros and Ejercito, Dr. Villegas fully supported Senator Poe’s position that we do not need to amend the Constitution, especially as regards to media, advertising and education as well as ownership of land, specifically at the stage of the development we are in.

According to Dr. Villegas, at this point, we should have a single-minded focus on the scandal that we have, with 21 percent of the population living in dehumanizing poverty, considering all of our neighbors in southeast Asia have single-digit poverty incidents.

The question, therefore, is how to approach this problem. Dr. Villegas further explains that, as he sees it, there are two major challenges to the current administration, which is agricultural productivity and food security to fully address the decades-old neglect of agriculture and the countryside.

Dr. Villegas continued his discussion by pointing out his target for this administration. He expressed that it is good news that for the first time in 2023, and in all four quarters, agriculture production was not negative, which was not the case for many years before the present Marcos administration, when one can find a lot of quarters prior to this period where agriculture had actually declined.

Going back to his target, Dr. Villegas hopes that by the second half of this administration, agricultural production will increase by at least three percent a year, as this is what our neighbors in Vietnam and Thailand have done over the last ten years.

Three percent, as he says, is not too much to ask this present administration when in the end, it would have at least achieved eight percent growth before the administration is finished. By doing so, we would be able to achieve most importantly, $15-20 billion worth of foreign investment every year (ideally) that is seen as very essential for today’s circumstances.

In other words, out of the $72 billion of pledges that President Marcos has been acquiring from his trips, of which $14 billion worth have already been implemented. This, as Dr. Villegas continued to express, is certainly good news and that it would be better if we keep to a target of $15-20 billion every year for the remaining years of the Marcos administration.

As for media, advertising and education, Dr. Villegas explained that they are not capital intensive and they will not impact on poverty unlike infrastructure, manufacturing and alternative energy, which would be open a hundred percent to foreign investment.

For Dr. Villegas, he believes that it is clearly not time to amend the Constitution and as for land ownership, based on all his road shows here and abroad, leasing of land is what we need, with more Del Montes or DOLEs, into mangoes, avocados, coffee, cacao and bamboo, which is a way to increase agricultural activity significantly.

With more large corporations such as the Pangilinans, the Benguets, among a few others, investing in large tracks of land for coconut, bamboo and palm oil, agricultural activity is growing faster and while helping farmers is a priority in terms of poverty alleviation, more and more large corporations see profit as possible in the agricultural industry.

At the moment therefore, Dr. Villegas still sees that there is no need to open up the other areas for constitutional amendments, hence stating that for now, we do not need Charter change.

Interesting, eye-opening discussions in the Senate these past few days and I’m learning more than expected and, at most, perhaps even a shift in some perspective. At the very least, for now.

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