Duterte certifies three economic bills as urgent

A bill that aims to lower the required paid-up capital for foreign retail enterprises under the Retail Trade Liberalization Act is still pending at the Senate.

By Beatrice M. Laforga, Reporter

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte certified as urgent three bills aimed at easing foreign investment restrictions in the country.

Mr. Duterte sent a letter to Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III on Monday, certifying the necessity of enacting the bills amending the Public Service Act (PSA), Foreign Investments Act (FIA) and the Retail Trade Liberalization (RTL) Act.

Mr. Duterte said the three measures, which are all still pending at the Senate, are needed “to address the immediate and continuing need for legislative reforms to provide a more conducive investment climate, increase job opportunities, foster more competition and further support the country’s economic growth.”

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III provided a copy of the letter to reporters on Tuesday.

Amendments to the PSA, FIA and RTL are part of the list of priority measures identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to be passed before the Duterte administration ends in mid-2022.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua, who also heads LEDAC secretariat, said the council expects the bills to be passed before Congress adjourns in June.

“These are crucial bills to aid in our recovery by attracting more investments and jobs,” he said in a Viber message on Tuesday.

Congress is currently in recess and will resume session on May 17 until June 4.

Mr. Sotto said on Tuesday that there is “no word yet” on a possible special session, while Malacanang did not respond to the same query as of press time.

The bill amending the PSA will allow full foreign ownership in the public service sector, including transportation and communications.

Senate Bill (SB) 1840 is now up for second reading, while its counterpart measure House Bill (HB) 78 was passed by the House in March 2020.

Meanwhile, the measure amending the FIA relaxes restrictions on foreign companies, by removing the provision of “practice of professions” from the Foreign Investment Negative List, and lowering the number of direct local hires required for foreign firms.

SB 1156 is now pending on second reading, while the House approved HB 300 in September 2019.

Meanwhile, SB 1840 that aims to lower the required paid-up capital for foreign retail enterprises under the RTL Act is still up for second reading at the Senate. Its counterpart bill HB 59 was approved in March 2020.

An urgent certification from the President means these bills can be passed on the third reading immediately after the second reading.

For other LEDAC priority bills, Mr. Chua said the council will also request the President for an urgent certification once committee reports are already available.

Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda, who also chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the three economic bills will open up the country to more foreign investments after being the “most closed economy” in Southeast Asia to date.

“The Philippines has locked itself out of significant foreign investments, and therefore job creation. We have spent hundreds of billions of pesos in foregone revenue for tax incentives, when we have not tried a simpler, cheaper solution: opening industries in need of capital to foreign investment through legislative action,” Mr. Salceda said in a statement on Tuesday.