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Chacha: Foreign Ownership

Do you know that the cha-cha is a lively, energetic, and playful dance originating in Cuba that spread to Latin America during the political turmoil in the 1950s, when revolutions, coups, economic uncertainties, and uprisings became commonplace? Isn’t it a coincidence that the cha-cha dance would be associated with restlessness and crises?

In the Philippines, it is not a dance; it is cha-cha, the colloquial shortcut for charter change. It has become akin to a political movement of the political elite to change the country’s Constitution for economic, social, and, most importantly, political reasons. The coined word becomes a popular news hugger every time presidents in power attempt to tinker with the country’s charter when their term of office approaches a dead end or when faced with economic crises during their governance instigated by power-hungry politicians seeking to remove election term limits.

After allowing 100 percent ownership of strategic public services like power, transportation, and telecommunications with the amendment of the Public Service Act in 2021, they now want to allow foreign ownership of schools in the country!

Understandably, the 1987 Philippine constitution, charted after martial law, contains significant nationalist provisions and has become a favorite toy, especially by those who believe such provisions are irrelevant to the country’s development. The Constitution’s protectionist policies were meant to uphold the State’s sovereignty by keeping it free from the intrusion and control of foreign entities. But successive presidents have sought to amend this piece of document, from Fidel Ramos in 1997, a year before the end of his term, to Joseph Estrada, who coined his charter change campaign to “Constitutional Correction for Development” to win public support for the changes, to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who first initiated Charter Change to shift the country’s form of government into a parliamentary system; and even Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, son of Corazon Aquino under whose post-martial law government, drafted the 1987 Philippine Constitution. He had agreed for his economic team to study amending the charter, especially the financial provisions of foreign ownership of strategic industries. It was under the term of his successor, Rodrigo Durterte, even without charter change, that the Philippine Senate, on December 15, 2021, passed Senate Bill (SB) 2094, which amends the Public Service Act by enabling 100 percent foreign ownership of public services, such as telecommunications, airlines, shipping, and railways.

What happened? Foreign ownership and privatization promised efficiency and lower prices. Instead, they have delivered shortages, high prices, and oligopoly. Their most obvious sign of failure is that the power rate in the Philippines is now among the highest in Asia, if not the world.

Foreign ownership of schools

Today, the attention for charter change is on allowing foreign ownership of higher educational institutions. The Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, the Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2) underlined the need to amend the 1987 Constitution to “allow foreign ownership of higher education institutions (HEIs) to promote internationalization in the Philippine education system and enable quality institutions to thrive.”

The Department of Education and private educational institutions have opposed the proposed changes since allowing more foreign ownership of schools would not improve access to quality education in the Philippines but worsen it. The Dep-Ed asserts that the entry of 100% foreign-operated schools in primary education will threaten students’ sense of nationality and the country’s national security. It has “far-reaching” consequences. However, the Commission on Higher Education expressed support for lifting foreign ownership restrictions in higher education to make HEIS more competitive.

The Constitution is the people’s protection

A constitution is a collection of rules and principles determining how a state is governed. It is the backbone of our democratic society, ensuring every citizen is treated equally and fairly with equal access to education and other essential services.

As an educator and school administrator, I believe that the government should instead infuse more support into local institutions, especially in promoting the specific provisions of Sections 17 and 13 of the Constitution, which I quote, “The State shall prioritize education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and development; to inculcate patriotism and nationalism in the youth and encourage their involvement in public and civic affairs; make education accessible to all.”

It is not foreign ownership of schools that will raise the quality of education, but more government support, foreign investments, scholarships, facilities, and technical assistance to schools through research, infrastructure, active collaboration, efficient social services, employment opportunities for families, and good examples of transparency and accountability or good governance, that will spur higher learning and schools to be more globally competitive. A holistic solution. That is what the Constitution states and promises to protect. That is what the government should deliver: a state obligation to ensure quality education. Not cha-cha.


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