Presidential Bets Article

by GP Abrajano

(Published in the Philippine Star, circa March 2010.
The following article is NOT the published version.)

Land. The last frontier. It is probably the only thing that will still be in demand three hundred years from now. The entire world knows this, which is why the world powers are now scrambling for a slice of Antarctic real estate, and are also actively crafting legislation to distribute lunar land.

The Philippine Constitution prohibits foreigners owning lands in the Philippines. The 1935 and the 1973 Constitutions are explicit, the 1987 Constitution not quite so. This is because, according to law professor Carmelo V. Sison, it should already be implied.

There already exists a legal loophole regarding foreign ownership, and that is Republic Act 4726, known as the Condominium Act. Maneuvering through its legalese, it becomes possible for a foreigner to own one hundred percent of Philippine real estate, because when it comes to condominiums, it is possible to separate the interests on the land from the building.

What then could be the future of Philippine real properties? Would it remain patrimonial? Or would it be sold to the highest bidder? That all depends on who will lead this country at the start of the new presidential term. Here are the presidential candidates and their stand on foreign ownership of land in the Philippines.

Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro: Gibo is a clear proponent of changing the charter. He is particularly vocal about reducing the legislative chambers into a single, unicameral system. We can understand where this is coming from, after two years of serving as a congressional legislator. Of course, this is not the only change he wants to see. He is for the partial lifting of the ban on foreigners owning Philippine lands.

Gibo is all for foreigners owning commercial, industrial, and residential lands. Residential lands are understandable ─ we’ve had foreigners living here as far back as anyone can remember. But commercial and industrial land is another matter. This actually covers potential tourist gold mines. This poses the danger of the gold being mined into foreign pockets.

He does, however, reserve to the Filipinos the agricultural, forest, mineral, and timber lands of these islands. I guess this seems all right. But I still can’t help but think that it’s the commercial and industrial lands that will generate more money.

Richard “Dick” Gordon: Dick Gordon is generally of the same view as Gibo, that is, opening our lands to foreign enterprises. He also added that our minerals, our oil, and our waters should be reserved only for Filipino citizens.

This is of course coming from a man who held the mayoralty seat of Olongapo city for thirteen years, and chaired the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, countless others tourism agencies, and also served as Secretary of the Department of Tourism. For someone who would go the extra mile to attract foreigners to visit our shores, you can only imagine how far he would go to attract foreigners to stay on our shores.

Joseph “Erap” Estrada: Erap is the third presidential bet who is openly pro-foreign ownership of Philippine lands. This has been his policy when he was still in office, and he shows no signs of changing this policy should he get re-elected this time.

Think back to the time of Erap’s CONCORD, or Constitutional Correction and Development. Charter Change had already been part of his agenda, although not in a term-extension manner, but in a manner that will sell our national patrimony to the highest bidder.

Manuel “Manny” Villar: To determine Villar’s stand on land ownership by aliens, all one has to do is study the platform of the Nacionalista Party.

“Foreign Investors are welcome to invest in the Philippines so long as the national patrimony and economy is protected and not compromised. Foreign investors shall be allowed access to land through the lease system.” So the Nacionalistas are not actually against totally alienating the aliens from Philippine lands, because they do allow the foreigners access to it. Just through a system of lease. Why sell, when you can lease it, make just as much money, and still retain ownership?

The platform also states that, “Land ownership has always been an important component of building up the Filipino middle class and it should not be easily compromised.” That is of course, the Nacionalista Party speaking. Not Villar himself. On the issue of foreign land ownership, Villar gives the cryptic response of “letting the people decide.”

Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III: When asked about changing the charter’s policies on foreign ownership of lands, Aquino gives the vague answer, “if it is necessary.” He plans on forming a separate Commission to determine if it is necessary to amend the Constitution’s prohibitions regarding foreign ownership, if it is actually necessary for our economic growth. Well of course anything can be justified as “necessary” as long as the conditions are ripe.

We must take into account that Aquino comes a family of landowners, whose vast haciendas have not yet been distributed to the farmers that tilled its soil, pursuant to the directives of agrarian reform. So if Filipino farmers cannot own their lands, I don’t think even foreign businessmen should.

Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva: Brother Eddie, along with Nicky Perlas, is maybe the only candidate with no experience in public office. His concerns are different from the other candidates. For example, he has no solid stance on foreign ownership of lands. But he does say that he is against all forms of foreign intervention. We can also assume he is against foreign ownership of Philippine lands.

John Carlos “JC” De Los Reyes: De Los Reyes may also be a relative cellar-dweller in the presidential race, but he is one of those who are against foreign ownership of lands. His prohibition is not total, though. He still retains a nationalist policy regarding lands, but he has expressed interest in exploring the possibility of letting foreigners have “limited ownership” of our lands. Not to take it against him, but history has shown us that “limited” will eventually mean “full.”

Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal: Senator Jamby has come under a lot of flak from the voting populace, what with her relentless drive against corruption and corrupt officials. And yet, Madrigal’s stance on foreign ownership of land may actually be the strongest among those who oppose it in its entirety. Madrigal wants to shield the patriotic provisions of our constitution reserving the rights of Filipino citizens to land ownership against any and all forms of foreign influence. For her, there are no conditions. Foreigners must not own lands. The Philippines is strictly for Filipinos.

Nicanor “Nicky” Perlas: Nicky Perlas is the underdog, one with no political experience under his belt. He also has the clearest, meatiest platform among all the candidates. Yet surprisingly, his platform, as well as his party’s (PANGMASA) platform, is silent on the issue of foreign ownership of land. It does put emphasis on the state of mining in this country, and talks about broadening “the ownership-base of the mining industry”. But this is in relation to local miners. However, if you take this in context with another point of his platform of encouraging foreign investment in the country, then I guess you can consider his platform vague on the issue of foreign ownership.

So there you have it. The question is: Should foreigners own land in the Philippines? Three candidates said yes. That’s Teodoro, Gordon, and Estrada. One is unsure, and that is Villanueva. Four are vague, and that’s Villar, Aquino, De Los Reyes, and Perlas. And only one has a loud, resounding NO, all caps, and that’s Senator Jamby Madrigal. And if your presidential vote will depend on the candidate’s stand on foreign ownership, then I hope this article has been of some help.

Sting Lacson

A writer. By degree and by profession. Also strongly advocates ten-finger typing to all writers because that's what you do for a living, so be efficient at it.

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