“For several decades now, even with these restrictions in place, foreign investors and multinationals repatriated billions of dollars in profits without any real and substantial contribution to the domestic economy and social development.” Rep. Luz Ilagan, Gabriela Women’s Party
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the United States governments wants a sweeter deal than the ones the Philippines government gave China and Japan in recent months. President Benigno Aquino III signed an agreement allowing China to lease 1.2 million hectares of land for agricultural production; earlier, he also allowed Japanese corporations to lease one million hectares for bio-fuel production.
Pamalakaya made the assertion after reports came out that US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. has been quoted urging the Aquino administration to start deliberations on charter change and allow the passage of constitutional amendments so the Philippines can participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) group.
Last August, Thomas met with the media in a forum on Philippine-US relations organized by the Washington-based Asia Society. During the forum, Thomas was quoted as saying that the Philippines should amend its charter to allow foreign companies to have majority stakes in companies operating in the Philippines.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution provides that Filipinos should own majority shares (60 percent) in companies doing business in the country, especially those involved in strategic industries. This provision is being circumvented by subsequent issuances such as the Mining Act of 1995, which masks the mining operations of wholly-owned foreign mining companies as a partnership between the government and the foreign corporation. Nevertheless the said provision in the 1987 Constitution remains in force.
Thomas said the Aquino government should initiate moves to amend the 1987 charter and remove all provisions that restrict and prohibit foreign capital equity to the Philippines. The constitutional ban against 100 percent foreign ownership, said Thomas, is what bars the Philippines from joining the TPP.
The TPP is a Asia-Pacific trade organization which, Thomas said, could vastly expand Philippine markets, create jobs and reduce poverty. The US official said President Aquino sought US support for joining the TPP during his US visit last year.The TPP aims to eliminate tariffs among participating countries – Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US – by 2015.
In February and March, the fifth and sixth rounds of TPP negotiations were held in Santiago, Chile and Singapore respectively. The seventh round of negotiations took place in Ho Chi Minh City last June This September, meetings were held in the US, while the last round for the year will be held in Peru in October. The TPP members have set a goal of reaching the outlines of an agreement by the Asia Pacific Economic Conference Leaders’ meeting in Honolulu in November.
Thomas was also quoted as saying that it is this provision in the 1987 Constitution that adds “to ills that fuel widespread poverty, corruption and violations on the rule of law.” Thomas also attributed to this restriction on foreign equity why the Philippines ranks ninth among 11 countries in the Southeast Asian region supposedly benefitting from foreign direct investments.
The official, however, expressed relief over what he said as the openness of Chief Justice Reynato Corona and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to moves to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution.
“Our priorities in the Philippines are basically the same as the priorities of the Philippine government,” he was quoted as saying. The envoy also admitted that the US stands to benefit from any economic development the Philippines might gain because the Philippines is the 8th largest country for US lead product exports and the 12th largest for food and beverage.
“It’s the only country that takes all American beef, resulting in a lot of American jobs,” he was quoted as saying in reports.
The previous June, Thomas also accompanied US congressional representatives in a visit to Malacañang. According to the US embassy, the visiting officials wanted to learn about important bilateral and regional issues.
Previous legislative proposals pushed by the US
Reacting to Thomas’ s statements, the Pamalakaya national chairman said, it does not surprise them to learn that the US is hellbent on having the 1987 Constitution amended.
“Since the time of former president Fidel V. Ramos, the US has been pushing for the major charter revisions to allow American big companies to acquire agricultural and productive lands in the country and ensure 100 percent foreign ownership,” he said. Hicap said US corporations are interested in taking 100 percent ownership in profitable sectors in the Philippines including but not limited to mining, eco-tourism, energy, public utilities, mass media, oil and gas, health and education.
“This is a blueprint for recolonization; amending the charter will allow US corporations greater access to the country’s natural resources as well as more opportunities to take advantage of the country’s cheap and exploited labor,” he said.
The fisherfolk leader also made the observation that the US wants a better deal compared to the existing land deal the Aquino administration offered the Chinese and Japanese governments.
Pamalakaya noted that while the proposal for charter change is still being debated, the previous administrations, since the time former president Corazon Aquino, had passed several laws that legalize the plunder of national patrimony by US monopoly firms.
The group said, in 1987, the Aquino administration passed the Omnibus Investment Code which allowed 100 percent foreign ownership of local enterprises. This was followed by the Foreign Investment Act of 1991 which granted incentives to foreign investors. Pamalakaya said, during the time of former president Ramos, the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995 was also passed to allow foreign control on vast tracts of land for mining activities.
Also during the time of Ramos, the Mining Act of 1995 was enacted; the country also joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) after ratifying the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994. The Ramos administration also approved the Bank Liberalization Law of 1994, the Build-Operate-Transfer Law of 1994, the Oil Deregulation Act of 1997 and the Investment Liberalization Act of 1997, which Pamalakaya said were shotgun pieces of legislation.