May 27, 2017 02:59 AM PST
SINCE 2007

Policy inconsistency

PH Political Scene

It’s been a couple of months since the Court of Appeals sent Federal Express packing as a “foreign-owned public utility prohibited by the Constitution from operating in the Philippines.”
Business leaders took awhile to assess its impact and now taking up the cudgels for FedEx as prime example of the lack of stability and predictability in the country’s economic policy. In the process, influential business groups are taking up the clamor for Charter change, a proposition that has readily aroused suspicions when propounded by politicians.

FedEx, one of the world’s largest freight forwarding companies, obtained a five-year permit from the Civil Aeronautics Board to operate in the Philippines starting May 2011. It was supposed free to operate here until 2016 by which time it can apply for renewal of permit. The permit came with the blessing of the Department of Justice, which rendered an opinion declaring that international air freight forwarders like FedEx are not covered by the nationality requirement of the 1987 Constitution and, hence, may be issued a certificate of public convenience “subject to CAB’s pertinent rules and regulations as set forth under Republic Act 776 and other existing laws.” 

But the CA decision said it was “not bound by the resolution of the justice secretary.” The appellate court acted favorably on the complaints of local forwarders Merit Freight International Inc. and Ace Logistics Inc. which charge higher fees than FedEx for their services. (This owes to the economy of scale what with the size and reach of FedEx.) It seemed that FedEx appealed an initial CA decision only to be rebuffed anew with that ad nauseam comment about the appellate court being independent from the justice department. That gives one a feeling that CA and DOJ carry out a different set of laws.

According to Makati Business Club chair Ramon del Rosario, the CA ruling on FedEx underlines the risks that make foreign investors think twice about doing business here. “This is most unfortunate as it again illustrates the lack of stability and predictability in our economic policy environment,” Del Rosario said. At the same time, he pointed out that the court ruling “emphasizes the urgent need to address a fundamental problem in attracting foreign investments,” which are the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution that limit foreign ownership to 40 percent of any local firm. He drew parallels between this ruling and that of the Supreme Court in 2012 against telecommunications giant PLDT. “The FedEx and PLDT court rulings demonstrate the inadequacy of relying on executive pronouncements and rulings that are subject to judicial challenge, without dealing with the constitutional restrictions,” he said.

For these beliefs, the MBC is now joined by 17 business chambers agitating for Constitutional amendments focused on relaxation of economic rules. Indeed, why does President Benigno Aquino III continues to resist such a move? If he’s wary of politicians tinkering with the Constitution, he should now lend an ear to big business. The existing Philippine Constitution is unarguably framed based on the U.S. model but whereas the American Constitution has undergone a total 27 amendments, none of previous attempts to improve the Philippine Charter ever got to first base. Heaven knows how much we need constitutional amendments to keep our laws up to date and in touch with the needs of the time. Remember that most of the economic restrictions in the Charter were actually written in 1935 and just copied in 1986. To say it’s a vastly different world today would be putting it mildly.

Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari declared independence during a recent gathering by the separatist group in Talipao, Sulu. The declaration supposedly encompasses the Zamboanga peninsula, Palawan, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, and even the Malaysia-controlled North Borneo or Sabah. Nothing to worry about though because Misuari called it a “peaceful revolution” which obviously had the 1986 people power uprising as inspiration.

Malacanang is not shaking in its boots, insinuating that the MNLF is a spent force. This means that Misuari no longer got what it takes. He has made many such declarations in the past.

Even during Misuari’s heyday, his rebel band was a pitiful sight. Misuari and his MNLF declared war on the Arroyo government in 2001 and attacked an Army headquarters in Jolo, Sulu. The outcome: most of the 100 or so people that died were Misuari’s men. Later that year, Misuari’s colleagues, citing his incompetence, ousted him as chair of the MNLF and replaced him with the Committee of Fifteen, now the central leadership of the MNLF.

The1932 Revised Penal Code is finally up for revision with the House of Representatives initiating the move. Once the measure passes muster, the Spanish terms for jail time will be scrapped. Prison time will be categorized instead as level 1 and so on instead of arresto menor, arresto mayor, destierro, prision correctional, prision mayor and reclusion perpetua. Also, the crime of murder will be either consummated or attempted and a crime suspect will be tagged as principal or accessory.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr., lead prosecutor in the Corona impeachment trial, authored the measure catalogued as House Bill 2300 or the proposed Philippine Code of Crime. Under the proposal, criminals will pay penalties based on the gravity of their crime and their income, meaning that a president of a company would incur higher penalties over his driver even if they committed the same crime. Likewise, it grants jurisdiction to Philippine courts over transnational crimes or crimes committed by Filipinos abroad as well as Filipinos who became victims of crimes committed abroad. It also seeks to lower the age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 to 13.

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