Miriam on charter change: Alarmist, wrong

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago rejects calls for Congress to change the charter this year

AFTER 2013. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago says there is no time this year for Congress to change the Constitution.

MANILA, Philippines – Want to change the Constitution? Wait one whole year.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is not keen on renewed calls to change the 1987 Constitution. The senator is the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revisions of Codes and Laws.

In a press briefing on Thursday, July 12, Santiago said deliberations for the 2013 budget and next year’s midterm elections will take precedence over various charter change proposals.

“You cannot just theorize and change the Constitution immediately,” she said. “I don’t see what is the urgency of constitutional amendment. At the earliest, it should be set after the May 2013 elections.”

Santiago was reacting to proposals of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr to change the economic provisions of the charter.

Enrile and Belmonte want to amend provisions restricting foreign ownership of land, public utilities and other services. Foreigners are allowed to invest only up to 40% in these areas while Filipino partners must invest at least 60%.

Asked about motives behind charger change, Santiago said, “It’s self-evident. Certain corporations are interested in the natural resources of our country and want to invest here but they want to own the whole thing … They are pressuring these politicians.” 

Santiago, however, said some politicians are “morally convinced” of the need to change the Constitution.

“I’m not saying that we should automatically blame them but what I’m saying is we need time to study this matter. It’s not as simple as it sounds.”

Santiago said Congress’ timetable is set for working on the budget after the State of the Nation Address on July 23. She said lawmakers will also be busying preparing for the 2013 polls.

Her position echoes the stand of her counterpart in the House, Misamis Occidental Rep Loreto Ocampos as well as House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II.

“There’s just no time,” Santiago said.

‘Everything begins with the mind’

While she said proposals to change the economic provisions must be lengthily studied, Santiago immediately rejected Enrile’s call to change the Constitution to prioritize defense spending.

In a press conference this week, the Senate President said the constitutional provision stating that the biggest budget be allotted to education should be amended. 

Enrile said the Constitution must be flexible enough for the government to allocate the most funds to the military amid the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China.

Santiago responded, “That is wrong because if we turn into a military country, we simply do not have enough resources to become a world military power or even a regional military power so what would be the utility of aspiring for a status where we shall always be second class or third class? That is alarmist in nature.”

Instead, the lady senator from Iloilo said the Philippines must boost the Coast Guard and not the navy.

She added that the constitutional framers were right in putting a premium on education.

“It is correct that the hierarchy of priorities should begin with education. Everything begins with the mind. If we are very clever, we can outclass the Chinese even with its dynamic economic growth and even with its status as a superpower.”

“All we have to do is know the art of international relations,” she added.

Santiago urged the Philippines to focus on what she called “power politics” in dealing with China rather than engaging in an arms race with Beijing. (Read: Miriam: PH needs wit vs China the ‘dragon’)

She said this strategy entails turning to allies like the United States, Australia, South Korea, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and convincing them that it is in their best interest to protect the South China Sea from incursions by China. 

“You just have to scream. Like me, when I’m outnumbered, I scream!” – Rappler.com

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