Duterte wants Congress to pass three economic bills relaxing restrictions on foreign investments in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 13) – President Rodrigo Duterte has called on Congress to immediately pass three economic bills that seek to relax foreign investments, in a bid to aid the country's economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Duterte requested the immediate passage of Senate Bills 2094, 1156, and 1840. The three measures are pending in their respective committees and are due to be passed on second reading.

The President certified as urgent the passage of these economic bills to "provide a more conducive investment climate, increase job opportunities, foster more competition, and further spur the country's economic growth."

Legislators can skip the three-day rule between the passage of a bill in second reading and third reading when the President certifies a bill as urgent.

Senate Bill 2094 seeks to amend some provisions of the 85-year-old Public Service Act to improve the delivery of basic services in the country.

The proposed bill distinguishes "public utilities" from "public services." The measure provides that "public utilities" will only be limited to three services which are electricity distribution, electricity transmission, and water pipeline distribution systems and sewerage pipeline systems.

The three classified public utilities in Senate Bill 2094 will still adhere to Article 12, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, which states that a firm operating as a "public utility" should be 60% owned by a Filipino.

Those classified as "public services," including previously labeled public utilities like telecommunications, transportation power generation, petroleum, and wireless communications, are now exempt in the constitutional requirement of 60% Filipino ownership in these firms.

Last March 10, the Senate Public Services Committee chaired by Sen. Grace Poe endorsed the approval of Senate Bill 2094 but it has yet to hurdle second reading.

On the other hand, Senate Bill 1156 amends some provisions of the Foreign Investments Act of 1991. The proposed measure seeks to ease restrictions in foreign investments in the country, particularly considering e-commerce business entities as "domestic market enterprises" which means those can now be fully owned by non-Filipino nationals.

The bill also orders the Department of National Defense, the National Security Council, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and other related government agencies to review foreign investments that may "threaten national security or jeopardize international relations."

The measure also sought for the creation of the Investment Promotions Council to further encourage foreign investments in the country. The Trade Secretary will act as the council's chairperson.

Lastly, Senate Bill 1840 seeks to amend the Retail Trade Liberalization Act of 2000 to lower required paid-up capital for foreign enterprises.

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco filed Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution to ease restrictions on foreign business ownership. He wants the House to pass the resolution in May.