By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Filipino farmers are worried as lawmakers approved on third reading the proposal to amend the Philippine Constitution, dubbed as the “economic Cha-cha” bill, allowing full foreign ownership of land and of the country’s resources.
Proponents of the Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, which was adopted on its third reading in the House of Representatives yesterday evening, claimed that opening up the economy to big, foreign powers will provide a more conducive climate for investment, resulting in job opportunities and the spurring of the country’s economic growth as it recovers from the onslaught of the pandemic.
But for Filipino farmers, allowing foreign multinational companies full ownership of land and other key finite resources may result in “irreversible economic and political repercussions” that may leave them landless.
“The so-called deluge of foreign investment to be brought by economic Cha-cha is only for the benefit of hacienderos and big businesses and not for the Filipino people,” said peasant leader Danilo Ramos of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
He said that under the guise of foreign direct investments, capital will be channeled to plantations and agricultural businesses devoted to crops for export. As such, only big landlords and agribusinesses will benefit from the so-called investments in agriculture while farmers and farmworkers will continue to suffer from landlessness and slave wages.
Amihan chairperson Zenaida Soriano said farmers will never forget the damage caused by the Rice Liberalization Law.
“If only our lawmakers and the Duterte government would heed the farmers’ demand and genuinely serve the interests of marginalized Filipinos,” Soriano lamented.
In an earlier statement, independent think tank Ibon Foundation said that foreign direct investments are not in and of itself necessary for development as seen in the experiences of South Korea and Taiwan, who were among the latest newly-industrialized countries to graduate to the status of a developed country.
The group noted that both countries had 7 to 10 percent growth between 1970 to 1984 due to rapid industrial development with foreign direct investments only averaging about 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent of their gross domestic product.
This, Ibon Foundation said, is in stark contrast with foreign direct investment inflows in the Philippines which averaged at 1.6 percent from 2005 to 2019 and yet only managed to record annual average growth of a measly 5.8 percent.
In fact, proponents of the charter change have repeatedly claimed that the Philippines has soared in terms of foreign direct investments. Despite this, it did not result in growth as in the country’s manufacturing sector.
While foreign direct investments tripled from $286 million in 2000-2004 to $728 million in 2015-2019, government data revealed that the manufacturing sector’s share in the GDP has fallen from 22.5 percent in 2000 to 18.6 in 2019. This, too, did not result in an increase in job opportunities, with its share to over-all employment falling from 10 percent to 8.5 percent in the same period, noted Ibon Foundation.
In the case of the agricultural sector, Ramos said that foreign capital will only be infused to transnational corporations that own plantations and vast haciendas for raw material production and will only be directed for export to serve the needs of advanced economies.
Ramos said that the economic charter change will result in wide-scale land-grabbing, particularly with those being tilled by farmers and the ancestral domains of indigenous peoples.
“Where shall Duterte’s Cha-cha get the lands to be put up for sale to foreigners? Obviously, not the lands of big landowners like the Villar family, but lands already covered by the sham CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program),” he said, adding, “We expect massive land grabbing, land-use conversion and displacement of farmers under Duterte’s cha-cha.”
Ibon Foundation asserts that “the economy’s development lies in using the protections in the Constitution to gain from foreign investment, not in taking away the protections and giving self-interested foreign investment free rein over the domestic economy.”