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Water agency, sugar liberalization pushed

/ 05:03 AM May 13, 2019

The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) has included the establishment of a Department of Water Resources and sugar liberalization among its legislative priorities to be pitched for the incoming 18th Congress.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and Neda Director-General Ernesto M. Pernia also told reporters last week that the state planning agency was hoping that the amendments to the antiquated Public Service Act could still be passed by the Senate during the remaining session after the May 13 midterm elections, before the 17th Congress ultimately comes to an end.

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The pending amendments to Commonwealth Act No. 146 wanted to limit “public utilities” to the following activities: electricity distribution and transmission, and water works and sewerage systems.

Pernia earlier said that redefining public utilities would eventually allow foreign companies to own up to 100 percent of domestic telecommunications ventures, hence open up competition and improve telco services.

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As for Neda’s proposal to establish an apex body overseeing water resources, Pernia had said that doing so would ensure efficient water supply and distribution in light of the recent shortage in Metro Manila.

The Neda chief had also said that the government was planning to allow private users to directly import sugar in order to cut costs and bring down domestic retail prices.

The government wanted sugar to become the next commodity to be liberalized after rice, he said. The government has noted that it is a raw material in a number of potential export products. Sugar in the Philippines is very expensive compared to the global rate, thus the plan to deregulate or relax sugar imports.

Some farmers’ groups have opposed the plan, claiming that beyond the pricing of sugar-based products and concern about inflation, the government should consider the social impact of this proposal on the people who could be easily convinced to resort to insurgence the moment life becomes difficult for them.

Pernia also pitched to amend the Omnibus Election Code—specifically remove the ban on the rollout of new infrastructure projects ahead of elections.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) had been slow to act on the economic team’s request made last February to exempt from the ongoing election ban 145 big-ticket national projects on top of 603 Department of Public Works and Highways-led projects. —BEN O. DE VERA

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