By Melito Salazar Jr.
I have been an ardent supporter of a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) to amend the restrictive Article 12 of the Philippine Constitution. I do not agree with Section 2 which limits the role of foreign investors in the exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources. Given the huge investments required, there are not enough domestic funders to fully transform our country’s vast natural resources into wealth-producing and job-creating enterprises. Allowing foreign ownership will provide opportunities for more Philippine executives and managers to be employed, trained, and eventually be in positions to steer such companies. At some point in their career, they could set up new ventures, increasing the Philippine entrepreneurial pool.
I am also in favor of removing the 40 percent limit on foreign ownership of public utilities, telecommunications and broadcast media, recognizing the advantages of harnessing the global network which will favor ultimately the Filipino consumer. More foreign funding will mean the infrastructure will level up to international standards benefiting Philippine business and society.
Section 3 of Article XII of the 1987 Constitution, which prohibits foreign ownership of land and allows leases of 25 years, renewable for not more than 25 years, should also be amended to allow full foreign ownership. As one travels around the archipelago one sees vast tracts of land which could be put into productive use by foreign owners with the needed resources. In fact, one comes across well-developed resorts owned by Filipino wives of foreigners and one sees that it is the husband who is really running the show. An upsurge in investments in land development for housing, commercial and industrial purposes will make the unemployment figure plummet and provide millions of Filipinos the continuing income that they can utilize to educate their children, buy a house and lot and have a better quality of life.
These amendments will jumpstart the Philippine economy and in tandem with the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program will accelerate economic growth and bring sustainable prosperity to the Filipino people.
I thought the fastest way to get these amendments was through a Constituent Assembly. Hearings conducted in the urban and rural centers will provide opportunities for the electorate to be cognizant of the pros and cons, given that the amendments are few. While a Constituent Assembly may not be restricted as to the amendments it proposes, I hoped that since it was clear that it was being convened specifically for a limited purpose, Congress will be morally bound by this mandate.
However, the present initiatives constitute a drastic overhaul of the Constitution especially with the shift to federalism. Given the existing task of legislation, I do not believe the legislators can do justice to the job of amending many provisions of the Constitution. I am also worried of the possibility that self-interest will overcome their concern for the national good. It can already be seen in the proposed transitory provisions which include “No elections (NOEL)” and the extension of terms of office of the incumbents.
Just the adoption of federalism necessitates an exhaustive, intensive, and insightful discussion, the likes of which I saw in the recent Senate hearings on the constitutional amendments chaired by Senator Kiko Pangilinan as luminaries former Senate President Aquilino Pimental, former Chief Justices Hilario Davide and Reynato Puno expounded on the issues with eloquence and great wisdom. Looking at the present composition of Congress, I fear the caliber of their contributions will not approximate that of these gentlemen. How much more when so many provisions are up for debate?
The recent deliberations in the House where hearings in aid of legislation have seen arrogance exhibited and witnesses intimidated if not insulted; and where the lack of civility and respect for others were observed leads one to shudder at the prospect of such a group amending the Philippine Constitution. The perceived attitude of impunity and being above the law (suggestions for legislators to be exempted from traffic violations) leads to worries about what self-serving provisions may be inserted.
The delicate task of amending the Philippine Constitution should be given to delegates elected by the Filipino people for that sole purpose. The forthcoming elections could be the opportunity to select these delegates and the product of their labor presented to the nation in a plebiscite to coincide with the 2022 presidential elections. A Con-Con for Cha-cha will mean a constitution for all and not just for a few vested interests.