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Anakpawis: Cha-cha unnecessary as 1987 Constitution, laws generous to foreigners

There was no need to amend the 1987 Constitution to allow the entry of more foreign capital because existing laws and constitutional provisions were already generous to foreigners, progressive group Anakpawis said Monday.

Anakpawis Chairperson Rafael Mariano, responding to pending measures seeking to amend the 1987 Constitution by allowing as much as 100% foreign ownership of various industries and land other than agricultural land, said that Presidential Decree 471 allowed foreigners to lease land for 25 years.

The lease contract could also be renewed for another 25 years for a total of 50 years.

Additionally, Mariano said Republic Act 7652, passed in 1996, allowed foreigners to renew a lease on the land for another 25 years.

“That is already 75 years [of leasing land]. Kung umiiral na po itong dalawang batas na ‘yan, bakit pa natin kailangan mag amyenda ng Constitution? We don't need to amend it,” Mariano told lawmakers during a House of Representatives Constitutional Amendments panel hearing.

(Since those laws are already existing, why do we need to amend the Constitution?)

Mariano added that the Constitution and the Local Government Code had liberal provisions on classifying agricultural land, allowing foreigners to own a significant amount of property.

“The Constitution states that all agricultural lands are unalienable, [but it also states that] only agricultural land is subject to further classification. That means, even public land is already alienable and disposable land. Bukas na po iyan sa foreign ownership,” said Mariano.

(Our land is already open to foreign ownership.)

“Kahit po sabihin na hindi issasama ang agricultural land [sa amendment]... na iyong industrial, commercial, residential lands lang. But under Section 20 of the Local Government Code, the city or municipal council already has the authority to reclassify agricultural land to other classification such as residential or commercial land. Ultimately, iyong agricultural ay maari ring maging bukas sa disposition,” Mariano added.

(You can't say that agricultural land will be spared because, under the Local Government Code, the city or municipal council already has the authority to reclassify agricultural land, meaning this could be available to foreigners.)

Lastly, Mariano said that even reclamation projects are under a Presidential prerogative since the President had delegated reclamation project approval authority to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

“Once a firm for a reclamation project lodges an application, that entity can seek a segregation survey on the reclaimed area and seek proclamation from the President to declare it as alienable or disposable land,” Mariano said.

Constitutional preference

But for Kabayan party-list Representative Ron Salo who is the author of House Bill 6920 or the Constitutional Convention Act of 2023, the 1987 Constitution needed to be changed since its restrictions on foreign capital hindered economic development and job creation.

“The recent death of OFW Jullebee Ranara in Kuwait now guides the undersigned on how this bill shall impact the lives of our OFWs," said Salo.

"Now, we take hold of the hard question that has long begged for a reasonable answer: How long must we wait to get our acts together before more of our OFWs have to die in a foreign land because of the lack of opportunities here in our beloved Philippines?”

“In particular, the Constitution prevents foreign nationals to own land, exploit and utilize natural resources, own public utilities, and own more than 40% of the shares of a corporation in crucial sectors such as education and construction,” Salo added.

By preventing foreign competitors, Salo argued that the same monopolies continued to take advantage of "constitutional preference," and the country’s economic growth continued to exclude the poor, driving the country’s best out of the country in search of better opportunities and employment.

“I find it highly unacceptable that our citizens have to leave our own country in search of better opportunities and a better life, despite risks to their physical and mental well-being. The lack of employment opportunities sufficient to meet the needs of our people and their families in our country is a problem that we must urgently solve,” Salo said.

“The restrictions on foreign ownership are designed to prioritize Filipino citizens. However, the country sorely lacks the requisite capital to boost our economy and develop our natural resources. It is time to liberalize such restrictions in order to encourage the free flow of capital in the country and pave the way to global competitiveness,” Salo added. — DVM, GMA Integrated News