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DoF supports further opening of economy

The House of Representatives is seeking to ease economic restrictions of the 1987 Constitution for ratification at a plebiscite that will coincide with the 2022 national elections. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

FINANCE Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said he is open to amending the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, as House lawmakers are set to begin deliberations on Charter change today (Jan. 13).

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua wants to further open up the Philippine economy, but urges Congress to focus on the urgent passage of priority bills meant to attract more foreign investments.

“I’m for really opening up the economy in all areas possible, with the exceptions of land ownership [because] the issue of land ownership is so emotional… so let’s do something doable,” Mr. Dominguez said during a virtual meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) on Tuesday.

Among the sectors that should be further opened to foreign investors are the retail trade and construction industries, he said.

“There are many areas that need to be opened. Opening up the economy challenges the local production and they respond positively if there is good support. This is why I think we should look at the Constitution and open as much as possible,” Mr. Dominguez said.

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments is set to open deliberations on the proposed Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2, which seeks to amend economic provisions of the 33-year-old Constitution in a bid to attract more foreign investments.

Asked for his position on Charter change, Mr. Chua said lawmakers should first prioritize pending bills such as amendments to the Public Service Act (PSA), Retail Trade Liberalization Act (RTL), and Foreign Investment Act (FIA).

“We have to prioritize the PSA, RTL and FIA amendments as these are urgently needed to help attract more investments and create jobs,” Mr. Chua said via Viber on Monday.

Budget Assistant Secretary Rolando U. Toledo said in a Viber message that the economic team is pushing for the urgent passage of the three bills.

“These bills will help promote a more sustainable and resilient external sector, whilst increasing the inflow of foreign investments and generating more jobs for the Filipino people,” Mr. Toledo added.

The three bills have been approved on third and final reading at the House of Representatives.

Their counterpart measures in the Senate, however, are still in various levels of deliberations: with the bills amending the PSA and FIA still at the committee level while the proposed changes to the RTL are at the second reading.

Meanwhile, the Makati Business Club (MBC) said pursuing charter change at this time would be “highly divisive” amid national efforts to address the effects of the pandemic.

“We believe that introducing any Charter change fifteen months before presidential elections will only raise fears that other constitutional changes, some of which may be highly controversial, may be introduced and passed,” the business group said in a statement on Tuesday.

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 provisions in the Constitution that will later allow them to pass a law relaxing foreign ownership limits in certain Philippine industries.

MBC is instead asking all major presidential and congressional candidates to commit to relaxing these restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution when they start their new term.

“(Candidates should) commit to initiate steps for the adoption of such provisions within the first 12 months of their term,” MBC said.

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry had earlier asked lawmakers to prioritize the passage of pending economic bills, warning against changes to the Constitution that could weaken it by making it easier for “ordinary legislation” to amend.

But American and European business groups in the Philippines supported the changes to improve the country’s competitiveness in attracting foreign investors and spur an economic rebound.

Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda said the country would earn as much as $7 billion in foreign direct investments each year if ownership restrictions in the Constitution are lifted. — Beatrice M. Laforga and Jenina P. Ibañez

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