Freeman Cebu Business

Trust issues hinder Charter change?

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”  So said Benjamin Disraeli, a prominent statesman who served as the Prime Minister sometime in the 19th century of the United Kingdom.  Still rings true until today but is often set aside by people who love to simply dwell permanently in their comfort zones.  Typical case is that of Charter change.

Truth to tell, the clamor for Charter (the 1987 constitution) change started as early as President Fidel Ramos’ term.  One of the proposed changes was the lifting of term limits of public officials.  Pres. Ramos then argued that this change is necessary to ensure continuity of the programs that are often discontinued when a new administration comes in.  As expected, some politically active religious groups, opposition politicians, business tycoons and left-wing organizations opposed the proposed changes and argued that these would benefit the then incumbent Pres. Ramos.

With the same intent, his successor, Pres. Erap, tried to be creative by abandoning the phrase “Charter change.”  Instead, for positive scripting purposes, he used the phrase “Constitutional Correction for Development.” His objective was “to remove the so-called nationalist provisions of the constitution which stipulate that companies, industries, land, and investment operations should be majority-owned by Filipinos.”  As allegations of corruption obtained then, his proposal was not only met with apprehensions, he was removed from office in 2001.

Reelected in 2004 after succeeding Pres. Estrada, Pres. Arroyo proposed a shift of the country’s form of government into a parliamentary system.  Trying to form a constituent assembly (House of Representatives without Senate’s participation) as a way to amend the constitution, it triggered widespread protests.  Thus, it never gained traction.

Then came Pres. Aquino.  Not favoring any at the start in deference to his mother, it was reported that he considered some changes in the charter when his relation with the Supreme Court deteriorated.  Notably, the High Tribunal then “declared as unconstitutional some parts of his stimulus package, the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).”  After which, he admitted in an interview that “he began considering the possibility of Charter change” because of it.

Then came Pres. Duterte with his Federalism initiative.  Reportedly, he abandoned this initiative and wanted to focus only on the “economic provisions to boost foreign investment.”  However, Duterte also asked the senate president that charter change must also be pursued in “aid of the government’s anti-communist campaign by overhauling the party list system.”  Thus, the opposition to such change mounted especially among human rights advocates.

Now, with Pres. Bongbong Marcos, the opposition is more intense.  It started with a wrong foot (the clandestine effort via people’s initiative).  Though it is moving in the lower house, its chances of being part of the law of the land is becoming so remote by the day.  Being a son of a former president who was perceived as a dictator, did not help too.  Frankly, therefore, just like the initiatives of his predecessors, trust was the issue.

Regardless, however, of anyone’s perception, let us be reminded that changes in the economic provisions will be the best approach moving forward.  For instance, a few years ago, communist country Viet Nam (remember, communism hates capitalism) made more policy changes by raising foreign ownership from 49% to as high as 60% on some previously controlled industries.  Good enough for foreigners to take control of their investments or businesses.  Notably, this is part of their continuing efforts to attune their policies to the constantly changing global investment climate to attract more foreign direct investments (FDIs).  The result?  They have more FDIs than us year after year since then.

The proposed Charter amendments expanding foreign ownership rights in key sectors could attract more FDIs into the country and help drive economic growth, according to the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF).  In response to a discussion paper by the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE), the FEF said amending the restrictive economic provisions of the constitution would also address the uncertainties of foreign investors.  Led by Former Finance Secretary Roberto de Ocampo, we can’t help but agree.

Apparently, therefore, what is important right now is for all the players (President Marcos and our lawmakers) to make true their commitments in amending some economic provisions of our constitution.   After all, there is nothing wrong with change, if it is for the better.  Otherwise, we shall continue to get crumbs.

Indeed, trust issues hinder charter change.  But, isn’t change constant? Why not change it or change our views towards it.

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