Pimentel questions timing of Cha-cha, raises inclusion of foreign ownership of land ​

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III rejected what he called a rider provision in amending the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution that would allow foreigners to own land in the Philippines.

“Although they call it economic provisions, there is one rider that it’s not necessarily connected to economic provisions. They want to open up land ownership to foreigners. Why is it there?” Pimentel said in an interview with ANC on Monday.

Pimentel said the rider provision would only add to controversy and resistance from the public.

“I think this will result in more opposition to the call for the Cha-cha (Charter Change) right now. Bakit nasisingit yang land ownership na iyan (Why is the issue of land ownership inserted here?), ” he asked.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri had rejected foreigners from owning land as this would push up real estate prices.

Pimentel also questioned the timing of the proposed amendment of the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution through a Senate committee-favored Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass) mode.

Also, any move to adopt a parliamentary form of government might come later when discussions are fully aired and the idea has ripened, he added.

Pimentel said the rider provision would only add to controversy and resistance from the public. “I think this will result in more opposition to the call for the Cha-cha right now. Bakit nasisingit yang land ownership na iyan,” Pimentel said.

Asked if a long term lease might be a better alternative to land ownership, Pimentel said the Constitution does not prohibit leasing.

In fact, a lease of 50 years, extended by another 50 years, is allowed by law, he added.
Asked why Vietnam, a communist country, has been the recipient of billions of dollars in foreign direct investment (FDI) compared to the "meager" FDIs going to the  Philippines, Pimentel said Vietnam has an autocratic system compared to the Philippines that adopts a "check and  balances" policy.

Foreigners who want to invest in the Philippines must play by the rules of the country, he pointed out. "They have to adjust to the rules" in the Philippines, he added.

In a separate statement, Pimentel, a former Senate President and 1990 bar topnotcher, said Section 7 of Article XII of the Constitution states that “save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain.”

He also warned that Charter Change would get rid of this constitutional provision, saying that “land ownership is sacred and a very personal issue to many Filipinos.”

Pimentel, a former Senate President and chairman of the original PDP Laban, said his party has long been advocating for Cha-cha to change the country’s system of governance from presidential to federalism.

However, his party acknowledges that the time is not yet ripe for the Philippines to shift to federalism. "We are willing to be patient,’’ he added.

“Mahirap ang buhay ngayon (Life is difficult now). We have domestic problems. The world has gotten so complicated, not only in trading but also in the politics of the world, especially these geo-political issues. Cha-cha will really eat up our time. This will refocus our attention from more pressing issues,” Pimentel said.

The Senate’s chief fiscalizer said proponents of Cha-cha should not blame the Constitution for the rising poverty and decline in foreign direct investments.

“The poverty that we see all around us was not caused by the Constitution. This has been caused by unfair policies,” said Pimentel adding that the inefficiency of the country’s justice system and the high cost of energy what are keeping foreign investors away.

“What is important is, number one, our energy cost. Number two, our justice system. Our system must be efficient and trustworthy,” Pimentel stressed as he echoed the issues raised by the business sector about the high electricity rates in the Philippines as compared with other Southeast Asian countries.

Citing the statement made by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Pimentel said that electricity rates for residential, commercial, and industrial sectors in the Philippines have been significantly higher from between 25 percent to as high as 87 percent than its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) neighbors, namely Malaysia (87.5 percent), Indonesia (87.5 percent), Vietnam (50 percent) and Thailand (36 percent).

Answering a hypothetical question about whether he would vote for Cha-cha if and when the plenary decides, Pimentel said he would vote for constitutional assembly (con-ass) as a mode.

“If we are serious in amending the Constitution, the most practical manner would be Con-Ass,” Pimentel said, but he emphasized that the Senate and the House of Representatives should be voting separately.

A constitutional convention (Con Con) mode to revise the Charter is said to cost from P10 billion to P15 billion.

Pimentel said electing delegates and forming committees in a Con Con setting would eat up one year and six months.

If Con-con is adopted, there should be a provision in a law that close relatives of current members of Congress should be barred from running as Con Con delegates, he also said.