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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

Cha-cha by moral giants

/ 04:07 AM January 18, 2021

Like a herpes simplex virus that causes recurring mouth sores, the House of Representatives is again attempting to amend our Constitution. This is the most heartless of all Charter change initiatives, because it’s being made at a time when our countrymen are so weakened and distracted by the most severe crisis they’ve ever faced in their lives.

Congresspersons make it sound like they’re doing a selfless act. In the economic provisions where our Constitution limits foreign ownership, legislators propose to insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law,” in order to give Congress the power to increase foreign ownership in certain industries. What they’re proposing is to divest the Constitution (i.e., the people) of some of its powers, and to transfer those powers to Congress.

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We must never forget that the marching orders of the Constitution have long been for Congress to pass laws that will bestow more power to the people by enacting laws on people’s initiative and freedom of information, among others. But instead of creating these laws that should empower our people, congresspersons want more power for themselves. Our Constitution fails to realize its full potential not because of imperfections, but because, for 34 years since its passage, Congress has been preventing the people from acquiring more power to participate in government.

Besides, with our prevailing political culture, do we need a Congress with more powers, or a Congress castrated of certain powers that it incorrigibly abuses? Ask businessmen who have gone through Congress to obtain a franchise, and you will hear tales of wheeling-and-dealing and “transactional” legislation. It’s the same Congress that will be dealing with lobbyists and vested foreign interests when they haggle on which businesses and industries will be opened for wider foreign control.

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And what businesses are foreigners restricted from? Foreigners can use land for 75 years under long term lease, similar to other Asian countries receiving huge foreign investments. Foreigners can own 100 percent of manufacturing, wholesale trading, and many other businesses by investing $200,000 or employing 50 Filipinos. They can own 100 percent of banks and retail companies worth $2.5 million. They can put up 100-percent foreign-owned businesses inside the hundreds of export processing zones, information technology zones, and freeport zones. They can own 100 percent of companies that provide news and entertainment content to local media companies. They have a wide berth of participation in the mining industry after the Supreme Court rendered a decision favorable to them.

For all the justifications invoked by Charter change advocates, I have not heard of any that debunks these analogies: Our country can have the most sophisticated hospitals in the world, but if our doctors are grossly incompetent, we will have the most dysfunctional health system in the world. Our country can have the most ideal laws in the world, but if we have brazenly dishonest and unethical judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, the law of the jungle will reign over our land. Our country can have the most advanced military weapons in the world, but if we have unscrupulous military officers, we will be the least secure nation in the whole world.

We must also pause and study the possibility that maybe our problem is not the lack of capital, but the abundance of capital that abuses privileges, marginalizes our labor force, and overly exploits our environment. We must think hard if we need more of this kind of capital from companies that have honed the art of exploitation, as seen in the widening gaps between rich and poor in the countries where they operate.

The restrictions on foreign ownership found in our Constitution represent the wisdom of our elders and betters who learned from more than 380 years of foreign subjugation under Spain, the United States, and Japan. These constitutional provisions were crafted by intellectual titans in our history. They should be amended only by moral giants of our race.

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TAGS: charter change, congress, constitutional amendments, coronavirus pandemic, Flea Market of Idea, Joel Ruiz Butuyan
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