Congress should do it right

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Thursday, March 6, 2014


UNDER the Constitution, certain economic activities are limited only to Filipino citizens or to corporations at least 60 percent of whose capital is owned by Filipino citizens. In certain cases, the percentage of Filipino ownership is higher, such as in the mass media which, the charter says, should be wholly owned and managed by Filipinos, and in advertising where the percentage of Filipino ownership should be 70 percent.

The advent of globalization has rendered it necessary to revisit these protectionist constitutional provisions that restrict foreign investments not only in the mass media and in advertising but also in the fields of development and utilization of natural resources, lease of alienable public lands, ownership of private lands, operation of public utilities and the ownership of educational institutions.

With the full integration of the Asean economy in 2016, the need to review these provisions has become urgent. But while lawmakers are open to amending the Constitution, President Noynoy Aquino remained, at the very best, lukewarm to the idea.

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It is against this political and economic backdrop that House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte filed Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 in the lower chamber seeking to amend the Constitution by removing the restrictive economic provisions. Congress is permitted to propose amendments to the constitution by constituting both chambers into a constituent assembly. There is, however, no counterpart resolution introduced in the Senate so far.

Belmonte’s initiative is timely. However, his proposed amendment consisting of the insertion of the clause “unless otherwise provided by law” in the restrictive provisions leaves a lot to be desired.

What it seeks to achieve is to transfer control over the determination of which economic activities to declare open to foreigners from the constitution to Congress.

I do not think it is wise to entrust that immense power to an institution that has proven fiercely loyal only to the parochial interests of its members such as the perpetuation of political dynasties.

The analogy may be a little overstretched but it’s just like giving the television remote control to the younger child who watches nothing but Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. You can’t allow Congress to arrogate unto itself the sole authority to decide which foreign investment to accept for the same reason that you can’t allow a child, who is fixated to a particular channel or channels, to decide which button to press in the remote control.

If we have to amend the Constitution, at least, let’s do it right.

***

When I was commissioner of the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association (CAAA), among my biggest headaches were the protests on players’ eligibility that were filed long after the tournament had started.

When I presented the problem to the CAAA board, the first to react was the late Engr. Oscar Jereza, president of the University of Southern Philippines. “Is that (the “late” filing of protests) allowed by our rules?” he asked. “If it is, then there’s no problem.”

“But why only now,” one of the coaches protested. Sir Oscar turned to him and said, “Shouldn’t the question be ‘why not now’? You knew what our rules on eligibility provide as well as the consequences for breaching them.”

I am reminded of that exchange because GMR-Megawide consortium is raising the same “Why only now?” argument in replying to complaints about supposed violations of bidding procedures on the Mactan airport terminal project.

A bidding for a public works project is unlike a wedding where the people are told to timely voice their objection to the union otherwise they are bound to forever keep their peace.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 06, 2014.

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