I'd like to extract a few remarks from the President on the subject of re-writing the Constitution to bring more foreign investment into the Philippines. The re-write effort is termed "cha-cha".
Foreign investment has been a burning point of passion for some bloggers like Ben Kritz. Ben works as a business consultant in the Philippines. Open up the floodgate to overseas ownership and Ben's services are mighty useful, I'd think. He knows Philippine commerce inside out. So he has a point of view on the need to re-write the Constitution, and it is hard. Hard in the sense than anyone not sharing that view is an idiot.
But maybe it is useful to pause and recognize that ignorance - accidental, negligent, or purposeful - allows all of us to see only a part of the whole picture.
I've opined myself that raising permitted ownership of businesses from 40% to 100%, and allowing land ownership, would be beneficial to bring both money and management expertise into the Philippines. So I am on the same side as Ben K. And I am influenced myself by the fact that I have bought two substantial properties in the Philippines with my money, but have not owned anything.
So I ask, from the comfort of my desk chair in the nice home I do not own, why the rigamarole? Why do I have to play games like own property through a trust, for example? Or place all my assets in the name of my wife? Some wives would be inclined to take the money and run. Certainly there are a great many moneyed people who are held back from investing because the path to ownership is blocked.
So I, too, come at this from a point of view derived from personal circumstances. I sit in my desk chair surrounded by a forest of my own ignorance about historical precedent on rewrites or the ways and means of business owners in the Philippines. And a part of me says "rewrite it!"
How does President Aquino come at it?
Well, his view is much broader than that of Ben Kritz or Joe America. And he has the whole of his government giving him ideas, information and advice. Neither Ben Kritz nor Joe America get this depth of intelligence.
Another circumstance is that he actually has to ACT, or FAIL TO ACT, whereas Kritz and America only need to type at their keyboards. They bear no risk from acting or failing to act.
As I read the President's remarks on the subject of re-writing the Constitution to get more foreign investment into the Philippines, I have to give him credit.
He makes good sense.
First of all, he points out that the Constitution is a good basic law and there are many other more important priorities that need to get straightened out before the Constitution is looked at.
- "When they conduct surveys, cha-cha is, at the most, 7th in the list of 10 priorities. We talk about red tape, policies, corruption, infrastructure, cost of electricity, etc., as more pressing concerns," he said.
There you go. Perspective and priorities. Opening up the spigot for foreign investment is priority number 1 for Mr. Kritz, no fault there. It is important for JoeAm. No fault there. But it is not for President Aquino.
No fault there.
Unquestionably, until Customs, for example, is cleaned up, both of immense snarls of red tape and stained hands in every fee jar, why bust one's buttons trying to lure money into the Philippines. Importers and exporters would turn sour . . . or turn away. Futile. It's like trying to attract tourists who have to deal with trashy airports and swarms of beggars to get to the jewels of Philippine beaches.
Kritz complains mightily about the lousy airports in the Philippines. He gets the point of "infrastructure supporting tourism". The lack of infrastructure gives him ammo to ridicule the whole tourism push, and the President for not getting the airports rebuilt in a year.
But Ben ignores the point of "infrastructure supporting investments" it seems to me. The President wants to work on that infrastructure before rewriting the Constitution.
Well, the point is the same for both, tourism and foreign investment. They both need a framework that works. Policies and practices and regulations and transportation that turn outside interest, and money spent, into real value. Smoothly. Efficiently. It will be interesting to see how the ambitious "More Fun in the Philippines" tourism push turns out given the weak infrastructure supporting it.
President Aquino also makes the point that property ownership is not crucial to success. He cites the case examples:
- "China is the biggest growing economy in the last 10 years and they only have long term leases, [they] cannot own land. Vietnam, the darling for such a long time, [foreigners] also… cannot own land. So that doesn't seem to be an argument born by the facts," Aquino said.
I have to sit here in my cozy home and chuckle. Yes, I suspect that it true. "Where there is a will, there is a way." If there is money to be made, or there are other values (like retiring in the Philippines), investors will find a way around ownership restrictions.
That said, I think the restrictions are a part of the framework that eventually needs to be fixed. But perhaps it is not a critical part. And for sure, it needs to be weighed against the big gorilla in the room, the room where the rewrite of the Constitution would occur.
It has to be weighed against the fact that we can't predict what the Gorilla will do, what the re-write will produce. President Aquino's take on this:
- "Until I am shown empirical evidence, I don't think the risk of opening up the Constitution is worth the theoretical possibility that it might have," he added.
So he share's the wariness JoeAm has expressed about re-writing a document that could, if disassembled, get reassembled as an entirely different form of government. Those who believe that we are finally getting THIS ONE rooted in sound principles and honesty are not inclined to throw everything up in the air creating opportunity for people to run around scooping up as much fame, power and wealth as they can glom onto. Whilst not getting much done to build a wealthier, healthier Philippines.
It's better to work on progress within the rules of the existing Constitution, a reasonable document, if not a perfect one.
President Aquino also addressed the point of "need" or "objective" in re-writing the Constitution, saying that he has asked his staff to draw up a list of matters warranting attention. I would imagine such an exercise would list things now in the document that need to be removed or changed, and additions to it. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.
Certainly, without a clear road map of changes to be effected, the risks to opening up the Constitution to rewrite are huge.
I come down agreeing with the President's take on this, and leave it to Ben to argue from the vantage point of his own priorities.