WHAT WAS Speaker Belmonte thinking? Happily, he didn’t have the numbers and his pet bill, the “economic cha-cha,” is now dead in the water – thank goodness for that.
It was a dubious attempt to get 7 constitutional provisions amended to enlarge foreign ownership of local businesses and natural resources, supposedly to supercharge our economy and induce a prosperity more of us can feel. In reality, it would have undone the great boon delivered by the 1987 Constitution, which solidified domestic control over our national patrimony. With that, the framers staunchly defended us against insidious statutes like the parity amendment of 1947, which in the ’80s was still a mighty stench to us, but now is well-nigh forgotten.
Allow me to refresh your memory.
The throes of World War II left the Philippines in ruins and in dire need of rehabilitation. As its final official act, President Quezon’s government-in-exile negotiated with the US legislature for desperately needed post-war assistance.
Sergio Osmeña and Carlos P. Romulo brought home the Bell Trade Act and the Tydings Rehabilitation Act which promised a windfall in trade and about $620 million dollars in aid and business capital. All this could be had if the Philippine Congress approved the Bell Act and its notorious Section 341, which required the amendment of our Constitution to grant Americans parity (equal) rights to natural resources, private enterprises, and public utilities.
To nationalists, this was an obnoxious stipulation that stank of extortion and made a travesty of Philippine independence. However, the pragmatists, led by newly-elected President Manuel A. Roxas, called that an over-reaction. While they admitted that portions of the law were unsavory, they insisted it was the best that could be had from America at the time.
The Bell Trade Act was approved by Congress in 1946 and a national plebiscite on the parity amendment was set for March 1947.
The Nacionalistas fought the parity amendment tooth and nail, to the chagrin of the Liberals. But Roxas campaigned like the war hero that he was and drew grand visions of prosperity, persuading many to accept his kapit sa patalim doctrine. The complete effects of the parity amendment were furtively kept from the public, and Roxas and Romulo continued swaying crowds.
Finally, the parity amendment was ratified by a ratio of three to one on March 11, 1947. The nationalists gave it a good try but the people had spoken. Wittingly or not, the voters of 1947 compromised the nation’s patrimony until 1972.
I remember the lovely hardwood casings of appliances in the sixties and seventies. The Zenith company flooded our market with its television sets housed in sturdy Philippine mahogany in dimensions that equalled a three-seater sofa. Our Radiowealth stereo was encased in such a hardwood cabinet. If you didn’t know any better, you would mistake it for a casket.
This, sadly, is where most of our rainforests went. And for 25 years, we couldn’t put up a fight. The 1973 Constitution tried to correct the situation, but it was a meager attempt that had no fangs. Not until the 1987 charter did we have a basic law that finally put up its dukes against such shenanigans.
The fact that our present House Speaker would initiate legislation that would undo all that for imagined wealth is beyond understanding.
Also a matter of concern is the rising popularity of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as a possible future tenant of Malacañang. While I admire his efficient management of Davao and his no-holds-barred stance against crime, I cannot say the same for his extra-judicial disposition of criminals and his outright admission that he would feed the fishes of Manila Bay with them. Equally disconcerting is his assertion that “if people call me a dictator SO BE IT.”
His supporters’ reasoning is that the Philippines is in a tailspin and needs an iron hand to arrest its descent. “Diktador na kung diktador,” they say. “Ang mga kriminal lang naman ang may ikatatakot. Kung law-abiding ka, walang problema.” So goes the fantasy. I beg to disagree.
In 1965, the Philippines elected Ferdinand Marcos primarily to end the “plundering and blundering” of the Liberal Party under the weak leadership of President Diosdado Macapagal. Marcos was charming, gifted, the husband of a beautiful wife who would represent the country winningly in foreign enclaves. He projected decisive courage, just what the undisciplined society needed, so it was thought. He was popularly held to be the great white hope to set the Philippines right. However, his first term failed to deliver on these expectations and his backers were understandably dismayed. He grasped at another term to prove them wrong. That second term was equally lacklustre. When he reached the constitutional limit, he bared his claws.
He brooked no criticism and also preferred the extra-judicial route. In the midst of mass protests and the clangor of Congress in 1972, he proclaimed martial law to silence them all.
Historical revisionists and those in extreme denial now see only rainbows and golden avenues in the Marcos regime. Life was better, the economy was more robust, the streets were safer, and we all had a grand time, they say. No, definitely no, we did not. Not my brothers or their friends who were repeatedly picked up by the PC for breaking curfew. Not me or my friends whose future options were curtailed by various restrictions. Not my parents or their peers who struggled to earn enough to support their families. Not the thousands who were detained and tortured and killed and whose families still seek justice to this day.
Our movement was controlled, our freedoms were denied, our choices were limited, and there was a focused, purposive effort to manipulate our thoughts. We were constantly gaslighted by the puppet media which spewed propaganda under duress. Truth was under lock and key.
That there are those who would invite a repeat of this nightmare not even thirty years after our emancipation is beyond understanding.
Addressing the UP high school graduating class in 1947, three-time Speaker of the House Pepito Laurel declared:
The Philippine Republic is weak and poor. Crime and corruption are rampant. The people are disunited. More should be done and there must be a way of getting at the root of all our troubles, of removing the causes of dissension that only wound and debase the nation’s soul. It is imperative that people should ever be conscious of their rights as citizens of the Republic. Living under a democracy, we are faced with a system which admits political parties or politicians, good or bad. Now it is the duty of every citizen to help the good politicians and eliminate the bad as thoroughly as we can. Remember that the level of statesmanship in our government directly reflects the level of political intelligence of the people themselves.
It will do us no good to weaken sound laws forged in the furnace of grave need, nor to install another dictator in Malacañang, no matter how his tough talk titillates. Let us not affirm those who would impose these evils on us.
Rather, let us look back and make it a point to remember; let us teach ourselves and our children the lessons of the past and together say, “not on our watch, NEVER AGAIN.”