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Drop cha-cha, pass pending economic bills, Congress told

By Jenina P. Ibañez and Gillian M. Cortez, Reporters

THE PHILIPPINE Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) on Monday urged lawmakers to prioritize the passage of pending economic bills instead of changing the 1987 Constitution.

The House of Representatives is seeking to ease economic restrictions of the charter for ratification at a plebiscite that will coincide with the 2022 national elections.

Congressmen want to insert the clause “unless otherwise provided by law” in parts of the Constitution that limit foreign ownership in certain Philippine industries. This will allow Congress to pass a law later relaxing ownership limits.

“While it may be the fastest option, inserting the provision could potentially weaken the country’s highest law by making it easier for ordinary legislation to amend the Constitution,” PCCI President Benedicto V. Yujuico said in a statement.

The country’s largest business group said the government should instead prioritize bills that cut corporate income tax, lift limitations on foreign equity ownership in telecommunications and transport, and expand loan aid to small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“PCCI supports initiatives to liberalize the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution to enhance the country’s competitive position globally, encourage more foreign direct investments and address monopolistic, uncompetitive behaviors and under-investments in some sectors critical to public interest,” Mr. Yujuico said.

“But this should be done in a deliberate and careful manner that will continue to make the Constitution withstand various economic interests, but especially the test of time,” he added.

The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) said it supports the push to change the Constitution to encourage foreign investments and spur an economic rebound.

“We also believe that this latest move goes hand in hand with the passage of the proposed Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act and the remaining Bayanihan packages to also reinvigorate economic activities,” ECCP President Nabil Francis said in a text message.

Aside from cutting corporate income tax, the measure will also streamline tax incentives by making them more time-bound and performance-based.

American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Senior Advisor John Forbes said foreign chambers want to make the foreign investment negative list “less negative.”

“Removing or modifying the constitutional restrictions on foreign equity would certainly improve the competitiveness of the Philippines to attract foreign investors,” he said in a text.

Also on Monday, Party-list Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin, Jr. said lawmakers would not touch political provisions of the Constitution.

“We are not proposing to open the basic law of the land to revisions,” the chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments said in a statement.

“We want to limit ourselves to provisions relating to the economy and national patrimony. We will not touch the political sections of the charter,” he said, citing an order from Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco.

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda said the country would earn as much as $7 billion in yearly foreign direct investments if ownership restrictions in the Constitution are lifted.

Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo said relaxing the restrictions on foreign investments is especially needed during the crisis, adding that Vietnam is poised “to overtake us in terms of GDP (gross domestic product) per capita this year.”

“Apart from their swift COVID response, they have sustained high economic growth over the years, partly driven by foreign direct investments,” she said in a statement.

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