Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kenney’s immigration backlog solution

As early as this late July, disquiet has been looming over Canada Immigration’s plan to slam the door to immigrants planning to make Canada their new home. The federal government, capitalizing on its newly-earned majority in Parliament, had just published the names and mug shots of suspected war criminals living in Canada.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney appeared before a House of Commons
 committee on   Oct. 20, 2011 to discuss immigration backlogs. Photo courtesy
 of  Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press. Click image to view "Immigration Minister
Jason Kenney talks to stakeholders and the public about 2011 immigration
Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister for citizenship and immigration and popularly dubbed by the media as the “Immigration Hunter,” asked Canadians to help the government round up and deport suspected war criminals and illegal immigrants. Kenney also announced that the government would strip 1,800 people of their Canadian citizenship, which he said was obtained fraudulently.

On October 20, Jason Kenney rose before the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and delivered the ominous message that immigration applications need to be reduced in order to fix the current backlog.

After smugly boasting that the backlog issue reflects Canada being the number one choice destination of immigrants in the world—a land of opportunity, prosperity and democracy, Kenney then turns the problem of backlogs around as a simple mathematical problem. “When total applications exceed total admissions, you get a backlog,” he says.

To address the backlog problem, Kenney suggests that immigration levels be reduced. He stressed that annual applications must be cut down so that processing will not be slowed down as new applications are added to the pile of applications received in the previous years.

Kenney’s understanding of the immigration backlog problem appears irrational, if not fallacious. First, if Canada is indeed the number one choice for immigration in the world, then whatever number and mix Canada Immigration would establish every year—and no matter how high—would always fall short of the total population willing to come to Canada. Thus, there will always be a backlog. The backlog issue is never a function of the number of applications accepted or the government is willing to entertain, but the number of applications actually processed and approved.

Second, the best way to confront the backlog problem is to use a real timeline, which means starting from the time an actual application is accepted and processed in a visa office, which is a long way before an application can be successful. This means excluding whatever targets are established every year, because you cannot effectively measure operational efficiency against the whole population of would-be applicants, who on paper may all be accepted or denied.

So much time is spent from the day an application is actually received and reviewed. Information has to be verified and cross-referenced with Canadian labour requirements and needs or immigration policy targets and priorities before applicants appear for their personal interviews. One wonders why it takes so much time when we have at our disposal all the advances in technology and in medical and criminal surveillance.

And lastly, backlogs could be considered an inherent and perhaps, a necessary control valve to assure that we get the best we are looking for. People who apply to come to Canada as immigrants are its future citizens and Canada Immigration has the obligation to sort and screen from a mountain of applications only those who seem to be the best fit. In other words, backlogs are not bad per se.

Backlogs become a serious problem only when they involve applications which are supposed to be processed with haste and urgency due to shortage of skilled labour or when a matter of legal right has already been established. Much-needed temporary foreign workers and highly skilled immigrants fall under this category, and when their applications are bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape, backlogs become upsetting and distressful.

Sponsorship of family members such as spouses, children and parents is also a critical part of this category of immigrants. These are family members who have earned the right to come to Canada to live with their primary sponsors, especially those who have become citizens and contributed to the Canadian economy.

Minister Jason Kenney is proposing to cap the number of applications for family reunifications. Reducing the number of parents who could qualify under family reunification is impossible to accomplish without tinkering with the original make-up of Canadians to be allowed as permanent residents. Will Canada Immigration disqualify applicants with older parents, such those over 50 and above, or discriminate against married applicants with children and living grandparents? What happens now to the objective of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to see to it that families are reunited in Canada?

There is already a low income cut-off requirement for sponsorship of family members, which is periodically reviewed and adjusted to economic reality. One cannot sponsor his or her family members if this income requirement is not met. In addition, sponsors are required to make an undertaking to provide financial support to their families, particularly parents, for a period of 10 years so they cannot opt to get social assistance during this period.

A proposal to give priority to families who can pay $75,000 up front for medicare expenses is both discriminatory and contrary to the objective of family reunification under the IRPA. And why would the problem of backlogs in processing be aligned with the economic ability of applicants to put money up front, when in fact it has nothing to do with the right to family reunification?

Refugees and those who are in need of protection routinely wait years for Canadian immigration officials to process their applications to Canada. The slow pace of having their applications processed adds to the refugees’ hardship and struggle to survive in desperate and dangerous situations, especially for those waiting to be reunited with their families trapped in refugee camps or countries beset with civil strife and wanton violation of human rights.

Will Jason Kenney throw them out of the plane too, as he is apt to describe Canada’s immigration system, and say to hell with Canada’s international obligations and commitment to refugees?

“Backlogs are not a function of a scarcity of operational resources,” according to Kenney. Despite Canada Immigration’s much-ballyhooed new worldwide electronic platform, the promise of modernization and efficiency of its Global Case Management System remains to be seen.

If there is a real and pressing backlog that needs to be addressed by Canada Immigration, it is in these categories of applicants—skilled workers, temporary or permanent, family members, and refugees—that the resources of government should be invested in. Not just in operational efficiency, but in clarity, consistency and fairness of government policy.

Contrary to the Conservative Party’s boast during the last federal election that they are the party for immigrants, they are nowhere near it as immigration levels in Canada continue to decline. There is clear evidence that the Conservative government is embarking on a hidden agenda to restrict the country’s immigration levels. The world’s economic downturn is being used as an easy and lame excuse, as governments in Europe, especially England, the United States and Australia are all focusing on reducing their intake of immigrants as part of their austerity agenda.

The extreme measures undertaken by the Conservative government are helping reduce the number of immigrants coming to Canada. Latest statistics from Canada Immigration show a decline across the board. Visas for skilled workers are down by 28 per cent, family-sponsored relatives are down by 14 per cent, and refugees, down by 25 per cent.

Myer Siemiatycki, professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University, says the evidence is showing a very sharp decline. “Has the government decided on the outset that they want fewer admissions? Is the tap being closed tighter?” he asks.

Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has already admitted that he plans to cut family class immigrations. More draconian measures from the Conservative government can only be expected soon, and these would be devastating for immigrants.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Landless in our own land

Philippine President Noynoy Aquino recently signed two major land lease agreements with China and Japan. China would lease from the Philippines 1.2 million hectares of land for agricultural production, and Japanese corporations, one million hectares for bio-fuel production.

A rice farmer in Davao del Sur, Agriculturist Finesa Cosico cites a host of reasons
 for the drop  in output. Photo courtesy of  Karlos Manlupig/ Click image
to view "Agrofuels & Food Prices"
These lease agreements were signed before Congress approved a resolution by both houses to sit as a bicameral constituent assembly to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which specifically limit foreign investments to 40 per cent. Proponents of charter change have argued that this restrictive foreign equity requirement is a major stumbling block in attracting foreign investments in the Philippines.

President Aquino, however, insists that charter change is not a priority of his administration. Rightly so, because there is no actual need to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution to ease the flow of foreign investments in the country. The so-called restrictive economic provisions have already been watered down and weakened by one legislation after another, all of which favour the foreign investors.

Preferential rights to foreign investors

One of these laws that gives preferential rights to foreign investors is Republic Act No. 7652, The Investor’s Lease Act, which grants to foreign investors the privilege of leasing private lands for a period of fifty (50) years, which may be renewed for another twenty‐five (25) years. An effective lease of 75 years is almost like owning the land for a lifetime and foreign investors can do as much as anything with the land they lease.

Next to Indonesia, the Philippines is the most popular country for land-grabbing deals in the Asia-Pacific region. According to an Oxfam study, some 1.37 million hectares of agricultural land were leased during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. President Noynoy Aquino has already doubled this number with the recent lease agreements he signed with China and Japan.

Foreign ownership of agricultural lands in the Philippines is not exactly a new phenomenon. As early as the 1900s, large banana and pineapple plantations were operated by large American multinational companies. Foreign agribusiness firms have long expanded into production of palm oil, rubber and other similar industrial crops.

Over the past few years, there has been a big surge in the demand by foreign investors for agricultural land, not only in the Philippines, but also in many countries of Africa, Asia and South America as well. Large-scale foreign investments in land, typically in the range of thousands to hundreds of thousands of hectares, are being driven by demand for agro-fuel production, and more recently—outsourced food production, in the case of the oil-producing states in the Arabian Gulf and heavy populated countries like China and India.

The agricultural land investment deals brokered by former President Gloria Arroyo covered 1.37 million hectares for the production of agro-fuel stock, such as coconut, jathropa and oil palm for bio-diesel, and sugar, sweet sorghum, cassava, and molasses for bio-ethanol.

Foreigners outsourcing food and agro-fuel production

Foreign investors have been targeting vast tracts of agricultural land in developing countries like the Philippines to produce agro-fuels. The Philippines, for one, offers a huge comparative advantage due to low labour and land costs. Blending of traditional transport fuels such as gasoline with bio-diesel and bio-ethanol, particularly for countries dependent on oil imports, has driven up the demand for agro-fuel production, thus building up the race for the world’s farmlands.

Adding to the growing demand for land in developing countries is the perennial food crisis, which is now exacerbated by the world financial crisis as well. To avoid shortages, soaring food prices and export restrictions ushered in by the 2008 food crisis, countries like China, India and those in the oil-rich Arabian Gulf, are purchasing or leasing lands through sovereign wealth funds in order to outsource their own food production for their own populations.

But leasing our agricultural lands to foreign corporations for either agro-fuel production or their food supply has disastrous consequences on our country’s own food security and to Filipino farmers.

For Chinese and Japanese: ‘Eat rice as much as you can’

The Philippines is the world’s largest rice importer in 2010, yet it is also the 8th largest rice producer in the world. Rice production has been declining in the last two years and there is a strong probability that the Philippines will have to import rice again from other countries. It is a nasty cycle of under production and importation, but the government continues to open up its farmlands to foreign investors so they can satisfy their demand for agro-fuels or stock-up for future food shortages.

As usual, the government will conveniently blame climate change and the vulnerability of our agricultural sector to both drought and rainfall for the failure to meet rice production target for this year. One Philippine senator also blamed rice hoarders and smugglers for distorting rice inventories.

Solita Monsod, U.P. economics professor and former secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority, even wrote in her column in one of the daily newspapers that the Philippines would never achieve rice self-sufficiency, i.e., no imports, if Filipinos do not reduce their appetite for eating rice and replace it with other root crops. Why do the Japanese and Chinese eat as much rice they can and not worry about a rice shortage in the future? Even Filipinos in the diaspora still continue to eat rice despite the availability of pasta, bread or other foodstuff, or even when their palates have learned to adapt to the Western diet.

Problematic policies of the government with regard to agrarian reform and food security are at the core of the country’s failure to be rice self-sufficient. Conversion of farmlands for residential, commercial and other industrial purposes continue unabated. President Noynoy Aquino continues to implement the agricultural policies of his predecessor in leasing lands to foreign governments and corporations to meet their agro-fuel demands and production of high-value cash crops for export.

Land-grabbing leaves nothing for Filipino farmers

Leasing of Philippine agricultural lands to foreign governments and corporations is tantamount to an act of land grabbing and it leaves Filipino farmers nothing. Those who might happen to be living on these lands are not given the opportunity to even have a say on the appropriation of their lands.
"Massive production of biofuels is a crime against humanity because of its impact
on global  food prices," says UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food. Click
 on image to view "The Right to Food: Corporate, Foreign Government Land Grab
Causing Hunger  in Poor Countries:"
This is the recurring problem that besets leasing of lands to foreign investors at present. Farmers and smallholders are being ignored. The failure to engage these farmers before signing deals has already led to the collapse of two high profile “land grab” negotiations—between Korean firm Daewoo Logistics and Madagascar, and the Chinese and Philippine governments. The government of Madagascar fell as a result of a popular uprising against the Korean deal.

Did President Noynoy Aquino consult with the farmers and smallholders before he signed the land lease agreements with China and Japan?

“Land is not a commodity: you don’t just take it away from people and give them something else—it’s not exchangeable like that,” says a spokesperson for GRAIN, an international NGO campaigning against land grabbing.

“It has much deeper meaning for people…you don’t turn a farmer into a farm worker and say it’s the same thing,” the GRAIN spokesperson adds.

And with the current momentum towards charter change, giving foreigners virtual ownership of agricultural lands will give them full control of how to use these lands. Whether it’s for agro-fuel production or to ensure their own stock file of food, this will displace the country’s rice self-sufficiency aspiration and its program of genuine land reform for the small farmers.

Large-scale land investments endanger food security of host nations

According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, many large-scale land investments by foreign governments and corporations are not meeting the goal of ensuring equitable and sustainable food security. In fact, these foreign investments may be further jeopardizing the rights of host populations.

The UN Report recommends that the rights of communities affected by large-scale land investments must take centre stage. Their rights over resources must be respected and the development of policies to address their needs must be made a priority.

If the proponents of charter change are allowed to have their say, “Filipinos will be landless in their own land. Kawawa naman tayo,” writes Neal H. Cruz of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Charter Change is not the answer


The impetus to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution comes from the basic argument that such revisions are necessary to ease up restrictions on foreign investment. Proponents of Charter Change say that the nationalistic economic provisions of the Constitution are hampering the flow of foreign direct investment. They claim that these provisions are driving foreign investors away.
Makati City business centre awaits more foreign investors to the Philippines.
On paper, meaning by simply reading the 1987 Constitution alone, foreign equity has been limited to 40 per cent in the operation and management of public utilities, exploitation of natural resources, ownership of private lands and educational institutions, and to 30 per cent in the operation of advertising agencies.

In reality, however, these provisions have been watered down, diluted or even circumvented by legislation passed by one administration after another right after the 1987 Constitution was enacted during the term of President Corazon Aquino. Through one amendment after another, laws have been passed by Congress to ease regulations and provide incentives to foreign investors.

1991: Corazon Aquino Administration exempts foreign investors

The Corazon Aquino administration passed the Omnibus Investment Code which exempted foreign investors and corporation from the 60 per cent rule in operating local enterprises that are considered pioneer projects and priority areas of investment. In 1991, investment laws for foreign capitalists were further liberalized by the Foreign Investments Act.

The subsequent administrations of Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also enacted laws favouring foreign investors. In 1995, the Special Economic Zone Act was passed. It was followed by related laws creating special economic zones in Cagayan, Zamboanga City and in the Calamba-Batangas-Quezon (Calabarzon) area where foreign corporations were allowed full freedom to operate.

1994: Congress enacts all-out liberalization of trade

In 1994, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was also ratified, thus enhancing an all-out liberalization of trade. Further laws were passed by Congress that liberalized foreign investments such as the Bank Liberalization Law of 1994, the Build-Operate Transfer Law of 1994, the Mining Act of 1995, the Oil Deregulation Law of 1997, and the Investment House Liberalization of 1997.

To make the environment more attractive to foreign investors, Congress also passed legislation that weakened labour unions and pulled down the cost of Filipino labour. In 1989, for example, the Wage Regionalization Act was enacted to offset demands for wage increases and abolish national minimum wage standards. The Labour Code was also amended to allow contractualization of labour and impose additional restrictions on the right to strike. As a consequence, the number of unions and unionized workers in the Philippines has dropped by more than 80 per cent since.

Attracting foreign investments has always been the key element in the economic development programs of the previous administrations from Cory Aquino to Gloria Arroyo. Foreign capital was invested in privatized and deregulated industries such as power generation, water and electricity distribution utilities, road infrastructure, transportation, and in business process outsourcing to take advantage of the deregulated regime and generate big profits for foreign corporations.
A computer programmer at a busy call centre work station in Manila. Photo courtesy
 of Jay Directa-AFP File. Click link
 to view "Global investors confident of more foreign investment flows for Philippines."
 Notice no mention of economc restrictions on foreign investments.
So, all this talk about the restrictive provisions of the 1987 Constitution is nothing but hot air. The patrimony provisions in the Constitution are merely aspirational, without teeth and reduced to ideal norms that have been crushed by legislation and sycophantic administrations to foreign investors.

Yet PH still lags in attracting foreign direct investments

Compared to China, a communist country without the fundamental freedoms that Filipinos enjoy and with a very restrictive economy, the Philippines received only more than $9 billion foreign direct investment in 2009 as against $60 billion for China. In 2010, foreign direct investment in China was estimated to have reached $115 billion.

Yet, the Philippines is a constitutional democracy, where people speak English like a first language and have freedom of speech, religion, an established judicial and legal system, and among other things, are familiar with the Western way of life.

On the other hand, while China is the largest economy in the region, it is also the most restrictive. Foreign corporations are investing more in China in spite of its record of human rights violations, use of child labour, tainted products and probably the world’s biggest violator of intellectual property rights.

Why do our leaders in government and those in business continue to blame the Constitution for the country’s inability to attract foreign capital? Despite limits imposed by the Constitution, previous administrations and Congress have run around them by liberalizing laws and regulations in favour of foreign corporations. Yet, foreign investors remain cool on the Philippines.

One keen Filipino observer noted that “the economic provisions of our Constitution are not the reasons why foreign investors are shying away from our country. Corruption, uneven playing field, ineffective governance and leadership, changing rules, no sense of urgency for reforms and a negative country image, among others, are the reasons why. Certainly, Charter change is not the solution.”

Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas, Senior Vice President of the University of Asia and the Pacific and a columnist in the Manila Bulletin, continues to insist that “a major explanation for the unattractiveness of the Philippines to the outsiders is the restrictiveness of our Constitution and other laws that are anti-foreign investors.” Villegas is convinced that amending the Constitution will result in attracting much-needed foreign equity capital in the form of foreign direct investments.

In fact, PH is lowest in business competitiveness

The IMD-World Competitiveness Yearbook 2011 results released recently by the Asian Institute of Management showed that the Philippines has slipped in business competitiveness as compared to its neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region. The Philippines is still the laggard in Southeast Asia compared to its competing neighbours Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia which again emerged with higher rankings.

According to the competitiveness report, the Philippines ranks poorly in infrastructure, one of the four major categories used in measuring the countries’ competitiveness. The other factors are economic performance, government efficiency, and business efficiency.

Notice that restrictive economic provisions, such as those found in the 1987 Constitution, are not cited as impediments to competitiveness. China, for example, which is a very restrictive economy, ranks very high in the competitiveness survey and is in a league of its own.

With dependence on foreign loans and foreign investment as the centrepiece of economic development plans, the influx of foreign capital into the Philippine economy has not resulted in dramatic improvements. Instead, the local economy continues to slump in a constant state of crisis.

Considered as the engine of economic growth, manufacturing, for example, has continued its decline in spite of foreign investments.

The number of manufacturing firms has fallen from 7,500 in 1999 to 4,600 in 2008, resulting in a drop in employment from 1.1 million to 860,000 or a decline of 4 per cent in its share in total employment. Manufacturing contributes only around 23 per cent of the total gross domestic product—the same level it was more than 50 years ago.

Using the Constitution as cover-up for laggard economy

Proponents of lifting the constitutional restrictions on foreign investment are not being honest to the Filipino people, or continue to be in a state of denial. Restrictions on foreign equity exist only on paper.

Despite legislation designed to liberalize infusion of foreign capital, the economy remains stagnant and our leaders in government and those in business are ignoring the real causes and looking for an easy scapegoat.

Instead of identifying corruption in government, indecisive leadership, excessive bureaucratic red tape, and poor infrastructure, they’re all blaming the Constitution as the major impediment to economic growth because it limits foreign ownership and control of local businesses.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cha-Cha, one more time

True to the saying that change is the only thing constant in this world, the Philippine Congress is back to its perpetual obsession for amending the Constitution. This time as a bicameral assembly, both houses of Congress have agreed on a formula that will propose revisions in the Constitution without the so-called involvement of the sitting President.

The first time the Philippines had its own Constitution was when the country was on the brink of gaining independence from Spain. It was largely symbolic for it embodied the First Republic until the Americans took over the islands and put the country under its colonial tutelage. Three Constitutions had since been adopted after the Commonwealth era but the Philippines never really became free from American stranglehold, as this latest initiative by the Philippine Congress to amend the Constitution could have been triggered by the constant lobbying of the American ambassador to the country.

Every time a new Constitution was adopted, hopes that the revisions would bring about positive change to the country quickly dissipated, only stirring up yet more calls for another round of revisions.

Just like the popular cha-cha-cha dance, every step forward is followed by a step backward, and that is exactly the enduring pattern of constitutional reform in the Philippines. Aptly termed Cha-Cha for charter change, it is like an affliction that won’t go away.
Cha-cha-cha. Photo courtesy of dabuda. Click image to view "Juana Change -CHACHA,"
The last time the Philippines had a major overhaul of its Constitution was in 1987 after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. Ferdinand Marcos himself installed his own Constitution in 1973 which was later superseded by the 1986 Freedom Constitution when Cory Aquino was catapulted to the presidency.

During the administration of Cory Aquino, a period of respite from Cha-Cha fever held sway as she said time and again that she was not interested in changing the Constitution, apparently the same tack now being taken by her son, President Noynoy Aquino.

Failed Cha-Cha attempts

Amending the Constitution was initiated during the terms of Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but the reformers could not agree on the mode of charter change.

Congress wanted revisions through a constituent assembly, with both houses of Congress sitting as one body. But the elected representatives in both houses were not sure how to approve the amendments once drafted and debated by both houses, and they were all consumed by nagging suspicions that the president at the time only wanted to stay in power for a longer term.

Others wanted a constitutional convention, where a separate election would be held to choose the delegates who would draft the amendments to the Constitution. But none of the sitting presidents was as strong as Ferdinand Marcos, the only president able to call a constitutional convention during his regime to draft a constitution to legitimize the New Society. Still others attempted to change the Constitution through a people’s initiative, which was shut down by the Supreme Court twice; first, for lack of an enabling law for the proposed revisions in the 1987 Constitution, and second, for failing to comply with the basic requirements of the Constitution for conducting a people’s initiative.

With the latest Cha-Cha initiative, both houses of Congress will consider amendments to the Constitution separately, vote on their respective proposals in accordance with the required number of votes under the Constitution, and submit the approved changes to a national referendum. But the revisions will only touch on economic provisions, not on structure of the government or term limits of the presidency.

Pressure from the United States

Undoubtedly, the impetus could have come from Washington, D.C. For a long time, the United States has been pressuring the Philippine government to adopt charter change to allow foreign companies to build majority stakes in companies that are currently barred under the present 1987 Constitution.

U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. made no qualms about the American policy to see that the Philippines change its laws and amend its Constitution in order to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which has been endorsed by the U.S. government. The TPP aims to eliminate tariffs among countries who signed up to the regional undertaking by 2015. Among those who have already agreed to participate are Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.

During President Noynoy Aquino’s visit to the United States last year, he asked American support for joining the TPP. Aquino told the Council for Foreign Relations in New York: “Envisioned as a platform for economic integration across the region, the TPP countries would be in a best place to become the region’s leading hub for trade, investment and growth.”

So all this talk that President Aquino is not on board the current Cha-Cha initiative could just be a smokescreen. Aquino appears to have given tacit approval to the U.S. ambassador when the latter has been making speeches that the inability of foreign companies to gain a majority stake in the Philippines has been a constraint to economic growth.

In his speech before a forum on Philippine-US relations organized by the Washington-based Asia Society last August 2011, Ambassador Thomas said “our priorities in the Philippines are basically the same as the priorities of the Philippine government.” He added that the United States is currently “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.”

The 1987 Philippine Constitution provides that Filipinos should own majority shares (60 per cent) in companies doing business in the country, especially those involved in strategic industries. This provision, however, has easily been circumvented by Congress and other joint oil exploration ventures between the Philippines and foreign companies. The Mining Act of 1995, for instance, masks the mining operations of wholly-owned foreign mining companies as a partnership between the government and the foreign corporation. The Nampalaya project in offshore Palawan is also another example of a partnership between the Philippines and foreign companies that violates the Constitution, whereby Shell and Texaco were allowed to get a 90 per cent stake in the entire project while the Philippine National Oil Corporation is left with only 10 per cent.

Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), also known as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, is a multilateral free trade agreement that aims to further liberalise the economies of the Asia-Pacific region. The original agreement between the participating countries took effect on May 28, 2006. U.S. President Barack Obama had proposed a target for settlement of negotiations between member-countries by the next APEC summit in November 2011.

The objective of the agreement was to reduce all trade tariffs to zero by the year 2015. It is a comprehensive agreement covering all the main pillars of a free trade agreement, including trade in goods, rules of origin, trade remedies, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, trade in services, intellectual property, government procurement and competition policy.

TPP to make cheaper drugs less accessible

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been criticized largely for some provisions that threaten to extend restrictive intellectual property rights, which would have geographical ramifications and a broad impact on citizen’s rights, particularly due process, privacy and freedom of expression rights. The agreement would also have lasting restrictive impact on the future of the Internet’s global infrastructure and innovation across the world. In other words, the TPP will rewrite the global rules on intellectual property enforcement.

One example of the obvious deleterious effect of the agreement would be to alter current policy regarding provision of affordable drugs for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Expansion of intellectual property barriers would enable pharmaceutical companies to hold or renew patents for longer periods, thus limiting the availability of cheaper generic medicines and treatment. Prices of medications to treat HIV and AIDS globally have fallen dramatically in the past 20 years, largely due to intellectual property legislation which allows for more wide-spread access to patents that used to be heavily guarded by large pharmaceutical companies.

As a result, the TPP will benefit predominantly big transnational companies and powerful countries like the United States. Matthew Kavanaugh, director of the U.S. Advocacy for the Health Global Access Project (GAP), said that the TPP in fact is a “beachfront strategy for gaining a hold in Asia for a certain set of countries, for a certain set of interests."

Cha-Cha and the TPP

If the Philippine Constitution will be amended to open up its patrimony provisions in order to secure membership in the exclusive TPP club, it will be a total sell out of our economy. Once the nationalist economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution are removed, the result will be the unhampered plunder of the country’s resources and the unregulated extraction and repatriation of profits.
For change, Revolution, not Cha-Cha. Photo courtesy of pelikula76.
As in the past, the President and Congress have easily bypassed the Constitution by circumventing its economic provisions that limit foreign ownership and participation in local industries, particularly in the exploration and exploitation of natural resources.

During the previous months, President Aquino signed an agreement allowing China to lease 1.2 million hectares of land for agricultural production. Not to be outdone, Japanese corporations were also able to obtain a lease from the government for one million hectares for bio-fuel production. So obviously, the United States government wants a sweeter deal than the ones the Philippine government has given to China and Japan.

The best minds in the Philippine Congress have not yet started to sit down in earnest and tinker with the economic provisions of the Constitution, yet the country’s wealth and resources are already up for grabs by foreign corporations. This current initiative to amend the Constitution is a mere formality, a charade to cover up what is already a blatant breach of the fundamental law of the land by the very same people who are now championing charter change.