Should restrictions against foreign direct investments be removed?

Over the past few days, two of my dear friends, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera and Orion Pérez Dumdum, have been engaging on a heated debate on Facebook over the advantages and disadvantages of federalism. It is no secret that President Rodrigo Duterte is hell-bent on changing our country’s form of government, from being a unitary state (under a presidential representative and democratic constitutional republic) to a federalist country with a parliamentary form of government. The famous Hispanist historian is against such change while the well-known constitutional reformist, of course, is a staunch advocate of parliamentary federalism.

Their common ground, however, is the Spanish language. Both are advocates for the return of the said language to the Filipino mainstream and social consciousness. Pérez is even open to the idea of having Spanish as our country’s official language (or at least, co-official with English) once more once parliamentary federalism has taken its place in national governance. The two just couldn’t agree on what form of government is best suitable for our country.

Correct the constitution

Nearly a decade ago, Pérez launched the CoRRECT™ Movement which stands for Constitutional Reform and Rectification for Economic Competitiveness and Transformation. The movement seeks to reform the inadequacies of the present constitution by wielding a three-point agenda: economic liberalization, region-based decentralization, and parliamentary system. CoRRECT™ Movement is not a centralized organization and is active mostly in the Internet. But since its launching, it has gained a massive following, especially from the youth sector and from those who may have been fed up with how our country has been faring through years of republican governance. The movement’s information drive made mainstream media and even lawmakers to sit up and take notice.

PEPE ALAS

Screengrab from Early Edition on ANC last July 9.

Both Señor Gómez and Pérez are Duterte supporters. Pérez sees Duterte as probably our country’s last hope in instituting federalism, particularly a parliamentary form of government. But Señor Gómez has been openly vocal on his opposition against such shift for years. In one essay that he wrote which appeared in his Spanish grammar book Español Para Todo El Mundo published in 1996, he noted that…

The Federalism proposal is a knee-jerk one because it has just popped out from the confused minds of some among our unaware politicians. Federalism, due to what it is, could precisely be the fastest way for the eventual separation of both Mindanáo and Joló from the Filipino nation. Federalism is not really a good idea and it should be opposed by all concerned Filipinos. The status quo is the only, therefore the best, answer. Federalism can only work if the Philippines were a superpower like the USA. But for an economically poor and beleaguered country like the Philippines, Federalism will only lead to its disaggregation and gross partition to the detriment even of the Bangsamoro.

In many discussions that I had with Señor Gómez, I noticed that his main concern regarding federalism is that our country might disintegrate again into several ethnolinguistic factions, as it used to be before the Spanish era. Also, there was the danger of strengthening warlord politicians should federalism pushes through.

This blogpost, however, will not delve into the merits and deficiencies of federalism. It will take up too much time to do so and might even require several blogposts. I am not even an expert on the matter. I will, instead, focus on the argument that Señor Gómez has against Pérez regarding the subject of current restrictions on our country’s economic activities which is at the core of the latter’s three-point agenda.

Foreign direct investments: good or bad?

Three days ago, in the Facebook group SPANISH language should be back in the PHILIPPINES!, Señor Gómez posted the following:

How safe would be the removal of restrictions against foreign investments? Si se quitan todas las restricciones en contra de inversiones extranjeras puede entrar en Filipinas una potencia extranjera, como China ahora, y acaparará la explotación de los recursos naturales por encima de los mismos filipinos, y esa es la razón por las restricciones. If we remove all restrictions against foreign investors, as Orion Pérez desires, an economic power like China is today can get to exploit all the Filipino natural resources and leave Filipinos with nothing. That is the reason for the restrictions against foreign investments. We had parity with the US before and it became a reason why the Philippines became its neocolonial vassal up to now in an almost total sense. I will ask Pepe Alas to make a survey on this matter here in Facebook to find out how many Filipinos will vote for the removal of all restrictions against foreign investments in their country to see if this Orion Pérez proposal against said restrictions is fine with them.

Heeding Señor Gómez’s request, I created a survey on my Facebook wall, encouraging netizens to vote if they want to retain or remove the 60-40 equity rule.

It is said that the “60-40 equity rule” was enacted by our government in order to regulate foreign investments and businesses. What does this equity rule entail?

The Foreign Investment Act (FIA) of 1991 states that at least 60% of business should be owned by a Filipino citizen while the rest can be owned by foreign investors. While the FIA contains policies and rules that govern the registration of foreigners looking to do business in our country, it has recently garnered criticism that it is nothing but “protectionist” for it has only fattened the bank accounts of local oligarchs who have monopolized several industries (jeopardizing both quality and price of products and services to the detriment of the ordinary Juan de la Cruz). The 60-40 rule was even said to be the main culprit behind the low turnover of foreign direct investments (FDI), a form of investment that would have potentially opened up countless jobs for Filipinos, thus eliminating the need for them to work abroad.

Take note, by the way, that 100% foreign ownership of business doesn’t necessarily mean that foreigners are finally allowed to own land in our country.

The removal or amendment of the 60-40 equity rule is at the center of the controversial constitutional reform that is being pushed by President Rody Duterte. Do you agree that it is high time that this 60-40 equity rule be scrapped?

The settings of the above post is public so that everyone who is not my friend on Facebook can vote. You may still do so by clicking here. You will also see, by clicking on that link, that renowned historian and economist Benito Legarda, Jr. already cast his vote and even left a comment. As of posting time, there are only four days left to cast your vote.

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It is contended that if we have no stifling economic restrictions, FDIs would have soared in our country, thus propelling us to Singapore-status (Image: BusinessWorld).

English poet Alexander Pope once wrote that “for forms of government let fools contest; whatever is best administered is best”. But Gómez and Pérez are definitely not fools. The former is a respected historian and littérateur in the Hispanic world, highly cognizant of our country’s political and economic vicissitudes and upheavals throughout the centuries. The latter is, hands down, the country’s leading expert in matters regarding federalism, constitutional reform, and parliamentary politics. And both are patriots. Their love for country is unconditional. They only have their fellow Filipinos in mind. Señor Gómez is opposing the 60-40 clause because he wants to protect not the oligarchs but the whole country from foreign economic predators. And Pérez simply wants our country to become like Singapore, a country that is known to have become an economic powerhouse by being fully open to foreign direct investments, so that Filipinos will no longer have to work abroad and leave their families behind.

I just hope that, in spite of their heated online arguments regarding the controversial subject of our country’s shift to federalism, they will still come to an arrangement. After all, Señor Gómez has not totally shut all his doors on federalism. In that same essay that was cited above, he concluded:

But all this will depend on the wisdom of the Filipino people itself. Federalism must first be studied well taking into account Filipino geography, economics, history, and cultural context much of which can best be studied in Spanish.

Que los señores Guillermo Gómez Rivera y Orion Pérez D —dos de los intelectuales filipinos más profundos de hoy y queridos amigos míos— consigan un acuerdo y/o una alianza pronto, por el bien de nuestra patria filipina.