“Deleting the so-called protectionist economic provisions of the Constitution would give foreigners the right to own utilities, mass media, investments, public franchises, and worse, land and natural resources.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Farmers frowned at presidential candidate Grace Poe’s stance favoring Charter Change to allow foreign ownership of utilities and services and foreign trade agreements.
In a dialogue with leaders of the Makati Business Club yesterday, Poe said she is “absolutely” in favor of amending certain economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution and vowed to make it part of her agenda during her first month in office if elected.
“Why not allow more foreign ownership for as long as they employ Filipinos and there is also technology transfer? I am not for land ownership but I am for media, for certain utilities, for academic institutions and also for the medical profession,” Poe said.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) is not at all appeased, saying that “once the charter is opened up for amendments, even the provisions on land ownership and political provisions, will be opened.”
Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general, maintained that “deleting the so-called protectionist economic provisions of the Constitution would give foreigners the right to own utilities, mass media, investments, public franchises, and worse, land and natural resources.”
More land grabbing
“Amending the 1987 Constitution’s provisions on national patrimony would lead to widespread land-grabbing and massive eviction of farmers from their farmlands. This is one big sell-out,” Flores said.
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said that Charter Change would lead to further expansion of plantations through land grabbing and further exploitation of agricultural workers and small planters.
UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos noted that vast tracts of agricultural plantations in the country are already controlled by multinational corporations such as Dole Philippines, Unifrutti, Del Monte and Sumifru.
UMA said that through different schemes under the Agribusiness Venture Agreement (AVA) such as joint-venture agreements, contract-growing, growership or production/marketing contract, lease and leaseback, management contract and the build-operate transfer, these corporations control agricultural land.
UMA said that in the Caraga region, there are long-term land leases for as long as 25 years but the rent for small planters is only P166 per hectare per month. Growers in banana plantations who supply Cavendish banana for Dole-Stanfilco are tied to long-term contracts at a fixed price of a measly US$2.50 per box of banana, equivalent to 13 kilos.
Meanwhile, youth group Anakbayan warned Poe against full-blown liberalization of the economy, which it says is harmful to Poe’s professed aim of promoting national industrialization and national development.
“Three decades of opening up of the Philippine economy to foreign corporations has led to catastrophic results. Doing more of the same would only lead to more hardships to the Filipino people,” said Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.
Citing government data, Crisostomo noted that the share of the agricultural sector of the economy has shrunk since the country signed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, from 21.1 percent of the GDP in 1996 to only 10 percent in 2014. The share of the manufacturing sector has likewise declined from 25 percent of the GDP in 1996 to 23 percent in 2014.
The youth leader added the much hyped economic growth under Aquino has only made the rich richer and the poor poorer, with the recorded $65.4 billion 2015 net worth of the richest 25 Filipinos now equal to the yearly earnings of the poorest 76 million Filipinos.
The KMP also warned against entering into foreign trade agreements, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
The KMP recalled that in August 2011, former U.S. Ambassador Harry Thomas said that the Philippines need to change the Constitution in order to join the, a new and wider trade pact being pushed by the U.S. that, according to the peasant group, “will trample upon the Philippines’ national sovereignty.”
The KMP noted that “the TPPA’s so-called investor-state dispute settlement system will not only remove legal barriers to trade but trample upon the sovereignty of countries by giving foreign investors and big businesses the right to take legal action against states whose policies are considered hindrance to their profit-taking.”
“The TPPA’s investor-state dispute settlement system is a death warrant to our country’s sovereignty,” Flores said.
The peasant group said that after the 2008 financial and economic crisis, foreign capitalists have found and expressed significant interest on farmlands as part of its portfolio investments. The group said massive and widespread land grabs are now taking place in underdeveloped countries coupled by speculation in land prices.