Press Releases

Statement on the People’s Initiative

January 25th, 2024

Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda
24 January 2024

The problem with immediately limiting the discussion on constitutional reform is that it does not recognize the sovereignty of the people to decide whatever matters they deem important.

The current system also grants just seven Senators a veto power over matters that concern them. This is hardly democratic. It takes as little as 27 percent of the national vote to elect a Senator, while the House as a whole was elected by local majorities in the districts, and through the national vote in the case of party list representatives. So, I do not agree with the Senate’s stance of simply limiting constitutional reform to a select few topics.

In a recent survey, as much as 56 percent deem food-related issues as their top priority. We cannot divorce that issue from the issue of land. Clearly, highly restrictive provisions in the constitution on land has left our agriculture sector starved for capital, technology, and even mere activity.

The agriculture sector GVA growth has been stuck at an average of 0.46 percent per year, even as the annual growth rate of the population has been at 1.5 percent. If we keep at this rate, we will depend more on imported food every year, or starve.

Addressing the lack of investments in agriculture will also help address rural poverty. Over 42% of agricultural households are poor, versus 11 percent for non-agricultural households. That means our non-agricultural households alone are already at the same poverty rate as rich countries like Germany and Canada.

In fact, it appears that a liberal regime for allowing foreign investment in land is linked with producing an agricultural surplus. Of the Top 5 agricultural exporters in the world, no one imposes restrictions or limits to foreign ownership of land. Of the Top 10, only China prohibits it, but only because no one owns farmland in China except the state. In fact, in Italy – home of some of the best small-farmer cooperatives in the world – they even encourage foreign ownership of farmland with tax incentives

Even in ASEAN, we have the worst restrictions.

We have some of the most radically nativist land policies in the world, from comprehensive land reform, to near-total restrictions on the foreign ownership of land, to heavy tariffs against agricultural imports, to restrictions in land consolidation. Nothing has worked to actually feed our people and lift farmers out of poverty.

Perhaps we should try freedom: The freedom of the people to amend their constitution. The freedom of farmers to work with foreign capital and technology. The freedom of Filipinos to invest in the agriculture sector.

We should not be afraid of the popular will. The House is not, and the Senate, as a bastion of democracy, should not be.

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