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Focus on economic bills, not Cha-cha

Trade groups say Charter change proposals ‘divisive’
/ 04:35 AM January 23, 2021

Various business groups in the Philippines remain supportive of initiatives to liberalize the domestic economy, but they oppose changes in the Constitution, which they said would be best done when a new administration has assumed office in 2022.

These groups said in a joint statement they were instead reiterating calls for the passage of a bill to amend the Public Service Law or Commonwealth Act No. 146, which will lift restrictions on foreign equity ownership in some sectors currently classified as public utility.

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The groups include the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Filipina CEO Circle, Investment House Association of the Philippines, Judicial Reform Initiative, Management Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Philippine Retailers Association, Philippine Women’s Economic Network, and Women’s Business Council Philippines.

“We are hoping for this [amended Public Service Act] and other economic bills to be enacted before the end of the 18th Congress,” the groups said, referring to the Duterte administration’s term.

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The business groups made the statement amid positive developments related to the discovery and rollout of vaccines against COVID-19, which has sent the Philippine economy into recession.

“We support initiatives to liberalize the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution to enhance the country’s competitive position globally,” the groups said.

“However, we are strongly opposed to any initiative at this time to amend the Constitution,” they added. “ We believe that introducing any Charter change (Cha-cha) 15 months before presidential elections will only raise fears that other constitutional changes, some of which may be highly controversial, may be introduced and passed.”

Considering these factors, they said any attempt at amending the Constitution now “will be highly divisive” when we need to be “totally united” in addressing the pandemic.

Concise definition

“We instead urge all major presidential and congressional candidates in the coming 2022 elections to express their support for the relaxation of restrictive economic provisions in our Constitution and commit to initiate steps for the adoption of such provisions within the first 12 months of their term,” the groups said.

Even at the onset of the pandemic, in March 2020, business groups and foreign chambers of commerce have been pushing for an update on the Commonwealth-era law.

A relevant bill has been passed on third reading at the House of Representatives and another one is still pending at the Senate.

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In March last year, these groups expressed hope that if and when an amendment were enacted, the new law would finally provide a concise definition of public utilities, institute a fair rate-setting methodology and facilitate greater competition.

Back then, they said for more than 80 years, the Philippines has lacked a law that defined public utilities, which led to confusion over the difference between a public utility and a public service.

“This legislation is long overdue and especially timely as it should help the Philippines recover from declining foreign direct investment,” they said.

Citing data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, they noted that net foreign investments declined by an estimated 30 percent in 2019.

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TAGS: Cha-cha, economic bills
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