"There’s no country in the world that developed without opening itself to foreign investments, he says."
At 95 years old, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile doesn’t want to ride off into the sunset just yet. In fact, he’s seeking another term in the Upper Chamber of Congress in the May 13 midterm elections. This after spending time under detention in Camp Crame on plunder charges for alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam during the previous administration. The Supreme Court allowed him to post bail on humanitarian grounds, and he says he would answer all the accusations against him when the trial of his case begins. Meantime, he is preparing to launch a nationwide political campaign in March and April under the banner of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino and the United Nationalist Alliance.
To find out what else he wants to do in the Senate if elected, we contacted a fraternity brother of JPE to help us get him as guest in our Saturday Forum at Annabel’s. He readily obliged, and here’s the highlights of our conversation on his key advocacies.
On the economy: There’s no country in the world that developed without opening itself to foreign investments. That is our problem today: We have restricted the growth of foreign investments into the country on the assumption that we have to protect our people from foreign capital. Today we live in a globalized system. We cannot live alone; we have to deal with the entire planet to market our products. We do not have enough domestic capital. We cannot really develop this country without capital. We need to industrialize the country to create the quantum of jobs to address poverty.
The restrictions in the 1987 Constitution on foreign ownership of certain businesses in the country serve to protect only the rich, not those who need protection from the government. We have reached a point where we have to reverse the constitutional provision that blocks the entry of foreign money into the country. We need energy, but we do not have the money nor the technical know-how to explore Benham Rise or the West Philippine Sea. We have to open up, what are we afraid of? That is the question that I pose to the political leaders and the elite of the country. Who do we want to help, the rich or the poor? The government must give preference to protecting the poor people. Let us open up the economy to as much as 100 percent ownership by foreigners.
On federalism: I am not against federalism, but I have a problem with it. First is the money. Can we afford a federal system? Second, the proposed division of powers will loosen the cohesion of our country. Third, the transition. Since the proposed new Constitution cannot be implemented yet, what Constitution will be in force during the transition? I talked to some of the delegates in the Consultative Commission and they could not answer my question.
On term limits: I am for the lifting of term limits. We limit the president’s term to six years. What can be done in six years? Can he improve the lives of the people within six years? After six years, the new president will change what has been started. It’s good if he will continue the policies of his predecessor. If we must have continuity of policies in this country, instead of federalizing, let’s shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government. We elect a president to represent the state, and we elect a prime minister to head the government and be the center of the political life of the nation. You can change him for as long or a short a time as he is effective in running the affairs of the country and the government. That is the system in Singapore and Malaysia.
On political dynasties: My position here is that since power emanates from the people according to the Constitution, from the consent of the governed, let the people deal with that problem. If they want a family to govern in that province, city or town, who are we to deny them that right?
On the Bangsamoro Organic Law: I hope that will eventually settle the problem of conflict in Mindanao. But from my own experience, the passing of a law is not enough. There are seven ethnic groups in Mindanao with different languages, customs and traditions. The only binding and unifying element among them is Islam. Even that is problematic as there are two divisions of Islam, the Suffis and the Shiites. How can you expect them to unify? Lanao del Norte and Isabela in Basilan did not agree to join the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Apart from the latent disunity in Mindanao, the lack of unifying element, there’s also the separate concerns of the Christians and the various indigenous peoples like the Tirurays and the Bagobos.
On peace talks with CPP-NPA-NDF: While every administration has the duty to defend the Constitution, enforce the laws and contain any rebellion, the government must be benevolent and wise enough to open the doors to peaceful resolution of conflict and violence in our society. It cannot be all-out war. You cannot shut off people with grievances.
On the war on drugs: It’s a matter of law enforcement. If people commit a crime they have to answer for it and they have to go through the process. The executive branch must enforce the law. After all, drug trafficking and drug usage are defined as crimes under the law.