Group says US desire to own land in PH behind fresh bid on charter change

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MANILA, Philippines - The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Monday said the desire of big American agribusiness groups to own agricultural lands in the Philippines is one of the main reasons why the administration of President Barack Obama is pushing President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to change the 1987 Constitution.

In a press statement, Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said the US government since the time of former President Fidel V. Ramos had been pushing the major revision of the 1987 charter to allow American big companies to acquire agricultural and productive lands in the country and ensure 100 percent foreign ownership.

"The desire of foreign monopoly capitalists in the US to acquire lands in PH is an open book. It is not a best kept secret. The monopolists in the US also want 100 percent ownership of other profitable sectors in the Philippines including but not limited to mining, eco-tourism, energy, public utilities, mass media, oil and gas, health and education. No less than the current US ambassador to the Philippines-- Harry K. Thomas Jr. is doing the chief job to compel Mr. Aquino to certify the bill for charter change and have it passed on or before the end of 2011," Hicap noted.

"The Chacha being pushed by the US is a recipe for the recolonialization of the Philippines. It is a grand menu for the continuous, unhampered and this time more brazen extraction of the country's natural resources and grandslam exploitation of Filipino labor," the Pamalakaya leader added.

Hicap said US agribusiness monopolies want to own lands in the Philippines to cater their desire for mass production of cheap raw materials in the Philippines and avail of docile and cheap labor available for production of export crops and other raw materials. He said US agribusiness firms "love Filipino labor" because they can pay our agricultural workers even way below the prescribed minimum wage law.

Pamalakaya said the US wants a better deal compared to the existing land deal offered by the Philippine government to China where the country signed an agreement allowing China to lease 1.2 million hectares of land for agricultural production, and also beyond what the country offered to Japan ,which is the lease of another 1 million hectare for bio-fuel production.

Pamalakaya noted that while Charter Change is still being debated and processed for enactment, the previous administrations since the time former President Corazon Aquino had passed several laws that legalized 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. 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 and the country 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 that further mangled and rendered inutile the reactionary Cory constitution.

Last month, Ambassador Thomas Jr. issued a statement urging the Aquino administration to start the debate and eventual passage of the Charter Change bill in Congress so that Philippines can join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an Asia-Pacific trade organization that could vastly expand Philippine markets, create jobs and reduce poverty. The US envoy to PH said President Aquino had sought US support for joining the TPP during his US visit last year.

But Thomas Jr. said the Aquino administration has to amend the 1987 charter first and remove all provisions restricting foreign capital equity to the Philippines. At present, the Philippine constitution limits foreign equity to 40 percent. The TPP aims to eliminate tariffs among participating countries – Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the US – by 2015.

“They have to change laws, issue executive orders and frankly, introduce amendments to the Constitution,” Thomas declared at a forum on Philippine-US relations organized by the Washington-based Asia Society. Ambassador Thomas had stressed the inability of foreign companies to gain a majority stake in the Philippines to the other ills that fuel widespread poverty – corruption and the rule of law. “For the Philippines, we have known what the constraints to economic growth have been…why the Philippines is 9th of 11 countries (in the Southeast Asian region) in foreign direct investments,” Thomas said.

“We are very pleased to see the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and also the Speaker of the House now open to changing parts of the Constitution on the economic side,” he added. Thomas’ view on the need for charter change is shared by some of the country’s top economists.

Dr. Bernardo Villegas, who was one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, asserted the Philippine economy can not grow at a pace sufficient to reduce the poverty level from today’s 30 percent to 10 percent or less without large foreign investments. Dr. Villegas mentioned China which attracted over $100 billion in foreign direct investments (FDIs) last year.

The Philippines generated less than $2 billion over the same period, lagging behind neighboring Indonesia and Vietnam which attracted $10 billion and $7 billion, respectively, the economist said. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said the country's FDIs amounted to $714 million in the first 5 months of 2011, up 15 percent from a year ago.

Original source: ALLVOICES
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