Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ps, Is, Ts

The last time I was involved in the process of amending the Philippine Constitution was sometime before the end of the term of Philippine President Fidel Ramos.

I remember making a presentation to a group of influential men in the President’s circle namely; National Security Adviser Jose Almonte, former Senator and Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul Manglapus, and then Budget Secretary Salvador Enriquez. The latter arranged the meeting after sponsoring a series of seminars that I ran for a group of young leaders at the Club Filipino. Upon my recommendation these youth leaders decided to organize a Philippine People’s Parliament as a way of institutionalizing People Power through the Constitutional and Statutory provisions on People’s Initiative.

As I explained, the People’s Initiative would make the youth or other Filipino citizens who participate Members of the Parliament or Congress, Provincial Board Members, Municipal Councilors and/or Barangay Councilmen at the same time. This is because it would allow them to amend the Constitution; make, repeal, and amend national laws; make, repeal and amend provincial board resolutions; make, repeal, and amend municipal ordinances; and make, repeal, and amend Barangay resolutions. They can even recall local officials. They will also earn the title, MPP (Member, People’s Parliament). J

They are empowered by mere LAGDA or signature even without being elected! 

Author with Ex-President Fidel Ramos

I agreed with the wise and famous men above that it would benefit the country to allow President Fidel Ramos who had a successful presidency to run for re-election by proposing a Constitutional amendment. However, it was my contention that it would be wiser to offer other amendments including economic ones as well.

My real interest was more on testing the People’s Initiative as the legal institutional substitute for People Power in the streets. The process would have allowed us to build a network up to the Barangay/Precinct level, which in effect was effective party-building. This specifically interested Senator Manglapus who was the President of Lakas-NUCD-CMD at the time.

Only the term extension amendment was proposed. Former president Cory Aquino and the Catholic Church opposed it. Understandably, they thought it was too early to amend the Constitution. Then Vice-President Erap Estrada, Speaker de Venecia and other Presidential hopefuls opposed it for obvious reasons.

It would have been a good test. Ramos was preparing us toward industrialization and to an almost “Dragon or Tiger” status as we approached the 21st Century. Cory Aquino was a transition President. We were still recovering from the economic shambles caused by the Marcos Dictatorship.  Six years were not enough to rebuild and to institute reforms. The would-be successors did not provide much hope.

Furthermore, as Senator Manglapus said, “If the process is allowed to prosper, those who oppose have several opportunities to fight it. First, they can go against the signature campaign; second, if there are sufficient signatures, they can campaign against it during the plebiscite or ratification; and if the amendment is passed, they can campaign and vote against Ramos’ re-election.”

Indeed, democracy in action, it would have been!

There are now moves to amend at least the economic provisions of the Philippine Constitution. Led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, there seems to be a consensus in Congress that a Constituent Assembly be formed with the objective of amending the economic provisions of the Constitution.

Specifically targeted are the restrictive economic provisions that affect foreign direct investments in land; in the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources; in media; in public utilities and even in tertiary education.

There is also the move to liberalize the practice of one’s profession in accordance with the principle of reciprocity. Example: If the California State Bar and / or Hawaii State Bar allow licensed Filipino lawyers to practice in either or both states, their licensed lawyers would also be allowed to practice in the Philippines.

The economic objectives are to grow our economy; to attract foreign investments, and to attain full employment.

The Philippines Board of Investments claims that in order for the country to have a GDP growth rate of 7% annually, it must attract at least $7 billion foreign investments yearly as opposed to a mere $2 billion currently. Compared to the foreign investments attracted by Indonesia, which averages $10 billion annually and by Vietnam’s $6 billion, the Philippines is almost pitiful. This is despite our supposed advantage of having an English-speaking and skillful labor force.

 “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” is actually a good start. Foreign investors would like to deal with an honest government and less red tape. American and other foreign investors are also covered by their national Anti-Corrupt Practices Acts.

To generate employment, we must industrialize. We must attract investments not just in industries but also in infrastructure development and innovation.

Less restrictive regulations will encourage an increase in tourism, trade, technology transfer and targeted training. .

The debate on the proposed amendments should start soon. I look forward to joining the discussion!

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