By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter

AN ECONOMIST who helped frame the Constitution said allowing foreigners to own land isn’t a prerequisite for improving farm productivity, saying that many multinationals can operate large farms on leased land.

Bernardo M. Villegas, a member of the Constitutional Commission that wrote the charter for the post-EDSA era, said: “Foreigners are not interested in owning land for agriculture… They are contented with leases for their large-scale plantation projects such as bananas, pineapples, cacao, coffee, palm oil, and hopefully the consolidation of coconut farms. These are the most important areas where we want to attract foreign investment, not in small-scale farming as in rice, corn, and vegetables,” he said in an e-mail.

Land ownership is restricted to Filipino citizens, and one of the Constitutional amendments being considered in amending the charter’s economic provisions is to open up land ownership to foreigners. 

Mr. Villegas added that since the amendment of the Public Services Act, or Republic Act 11659 — the only industries that need liberalization are advertising, media, and education. These, he said, “can wait until we are able to address the immediate challenges in food security, basic education, energy prices, and digital interconnectivity.”

RA 11659 allows full foreign ownership in industries like telecommunications, railways, subways, and airlines.

Separately, an Ateneo de Manila professor specializing in international trade law said removing the 1987 Constitution’s restrictions on foreign investment “will definitely benefit Philippine agriculture and fisheries and help our farmers and fisherfolk.”

Anthony A. Abad, professor of international trade law and competition at Ateneo law school, and chairman for the Philippines of the Commission on Competition of the International Chamber of Commerce, added in an e-mail that “agriculture is the economic sector that needs technology and international capital the most because of its special and sensitive nature (due to climate, environment, soil, etc.).” 

“Other countries have transformed their agricultural sector into engines of economic growth and brought prosperity to their farmers and fisherfolk by bringing in international investment and technology,” he added.

Senator Robinhood Ferdinand C. Padilla, who chairs his chamber’s committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, released on March 31 a committee report proposing amendments to the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution via a constituent assembly.

In a constituent assembly, Congress itself enacts amendments or revisions with a three-fourths vote of all its members. 

The committee report’s proposed amendments are to Sections 2, 3, 7, 10, and 11 of Article XII (national economy and patrimony); Section 4(2) of Article XIV (education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports); and Section 11(1) and (2) of Article XVI (general provisions).

Teknolohiya, kapital, at kakayahang sa pakipagkumpitensya at pangangalakal. Ito ang mga benepisyo na mararamdaman ng ating magsasaka kung inamyendahan ang mga economic provision ng ating Saligang Batas (Technology, capital, and competitiveness in trade are the benefits farmers can reap from the proposed amendments to the economic provisions of our Constitution),” Mr. Padilla told BusinessWorld

Sa economic amendments na ito, mapapadali ang pagkamit ng kredito, dagdag na pananaliksik at pag-unlad, at ang pagtitiyak ng pantay-pantay na pamamahagi ng lupa at ibang kayamanan (Through these economic amendments, access to credit will improve, as will research and development, while ensuring fair distribution of land and other resources,” he said in a Viber message sent through his staff.

Only Senators Ronald M. Dela Rosa, Francis N. Tolentino, and Christopher Lawrence T. Go have confirmed their support for the proposed amendments. Nine Senate votes are needed for the measure to be elevated to the plenary.

Mr. Padilla has said he is not giving up on the proposed amendments.

May kaunting kalungkutan pero di nababalot ng kasawian… nakuha natin ang suporta ng, ayon sa isang survey, 30% ng Pilipino naniniwala na dapat magkaroon ng amyenda sa Saligang Batas. At sa buong malaking kapulungan po, 301 ang naniwala na mas mainam na ConAss (I am saddened but not despairing… according to a survey, 30% of Filipinos believe the constitution needs be amended. In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, 301 believe this could be better done through a constituent assembly),” he said.

Kailangan sa laban na ito tuloy tuloy. Siguro maaaring sa susunod na taon uulitin natin ito baka sakali mag-iba ihip ng hangin (This initiative has to continue. Perhaps we can do this again next year, maybe circumstances will change),” he added.