PUBLIC attention in the past two weeks focused on matters related to freedom of speech: fracas around the revocation of Rappler’s incorporation papers and reactions to the award honoring Asec Mocha Uson from the University of Sto. Tomas Alumni Association, and her pronouncements about the location of Mt. Mayon. The proposals of four subcommittees under the Committee on Constitutional Amendments of the House of Representatives, which could be summarized as demolishing the holdouts to the neoliberal agenda, was not discussed as much.
Neoliberalism, the current version of unrestrained capitalism, has been the main architecture of the Philippine economy from the late 1980s, although we have long been entrapped in the capitalist web by colonial and neocolonial forces.
Neoliberalism has been made operational through policies that promote liberalization, deregulation, and privatization, which have skewed the country’s priorities to advance profit at the expense of the economy’s development and the interest and welfare of Filipinos. Over the course of thirty years, barriers to the flow of capital, goods, and people have been systematically dismantled; business has been given significant leeway for utilizing natural and human resources and determining prices; and the private sector has nearly taken over the delivery of services previously under government.
However, obstacles to the neoliberal agenda remain in the fundamental law of the land, in particular the Constitutional limits on foreign equity sharing in the exploitation, development, and utilization of natural resources; ownership of alienable lands; franchises on public utilities; practice of profession; ownership of educational institutions; mass media; and advertising.
The subcommittee proposals remove these provisions, pursue an “open economy” and “enhance economic efficiency and promote competition in trade, industry, and commercial activities.” The legal measures against total foreign ownership and control of land and key sectors will thus be removed.
In the debates that should inform efforts to modify the 1987 Constitution, the original provisions of Article XII National Economy and Patrimony will likely be negatively portrayed as protectionist measures incompatible with competition and international trade agreements. Proponents will also argue that for federalism to succeed, the states will need foreign investors to develop the economy.
What will not be fully acknowledged is the extent to which these recommended amendments will bring more of the same problems that have stunted our economy and impoverished our people for decades and which have been cited as justifications for Constitutional overhaul.
The research institution IBON Foundation warned against effects on our industrial and agricultural sectors of years of liberalization and other neoliberal policies. In 2000, agriculture’s share of the gross domestic product (GDP) was 14.0% while manufacturing was at 24.5%. After nearly two decades of unimpeded entry of foreign products, agriculture was at 8.7% of GDP and manufacturing at 23.2% in 2016. Philippine agriculture and manufacturing were stunted under a neoliberal environment.
Many of our localities only have land and labor as factors of production, which do not differentiate them from others. Their governments will likely resort to tax breaks and other incentives to attract businesses. Invariably, these will be in the forms of agricultural plantations, other agribusinesses, and pollutive industries turned down by processing zones. Those with forestlands, mineral lands, and coastal areas are more fortunate. But after these have been harvested, they will also have only land and labor to fall back on. Displacement of indigenous peoples and farmers, low wages and exploitation of workers, and degradation and pollution of the environment will be shrugged off as unavoidable hard realities on the road to progress.
Neoliberalism is advertised as compatible with choice and democracy. However, as noted by Sharon Cabusao-Silvaof GABRIELA, ruling elites have been resorting to more repressive measures in both Western and neocolonial countries in the guise of countering insurgency and terrorism; but really to contain public reaction to neoliberalism and its effects.
Neoliberalism and undemocratic rule are not incompatible. Among the House amendments is one that puts “responsible exercise” as qualifier for the rights to free expression, speech, and peaceful assembly under Article III Section 4.
If the House composition and its arm-twisting tactics are a preview of things to come should their Constitutional amendments pass unchallenged, there is reason for concern. According to Dean Ronald Mendoza of the Ateneo School of Government, almost 80% of House members are from political dynasties. The same dynasties will expectedlydominate a federal set-up and not have problems colluding with foreign and business interests.
Future public furor will not be about the location of Mt. Mayon but the nationality of the owner of the fertile lands around it.
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Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on January 27, 2018.
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