MBC, JFC present agenda to Senate leaders

By Mia M. Gonzalez, BusinessMirror

Posted at Feb 12 2014 07:54 AM | Updated as of Feb 12 2014 03:54 PM

MANILA - Local and foreign business groups on Tuesday presented to Senate leaders proposed legislation they hope would be considered in the 16th Congress, including amendments in economic provisions in the Constitution.

At the two-hour dialogue attended by business leaders at the Senate, Makati Business Club Chairman Ramon del Rosario reiterated the business community’s support for amendments to economic provisions of the 1987 Charter while discussing proposed legislation which would help improve the investment climate in the country.

“[We] just hope that we, the business community, who are very solidly behind the opening up of the economic provisions, and both the Senate and the Lower House can work together in perhaps convincing the President, but perhaps also in moving forward on this,” del Rosario said.

He also said the business community supports the enactment of a Bangsamoro basic law, adding that “it would be particularly timely for us to consider opening up the Constitution for more foreign participation in the context of the developments in Mindanao.”

Senate President Franklin Drilon told the businessmen that the Senate and House leadership discussed proposed constitutional amendments when they met on their common legislative agenda last week, and told the businessmen that “what is being proposed is not an outright amendment to the Constitution.”

“What we commit to you is that if the House passes it, we will put it as part of our agenda in the 16th Congress,” Drilon said.

Del Rosario also proposed the enactment of a fair competition law, which would help prepare the country for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations economic integration in 2015; Customs modernization and strong anti-smuggling laws; judicial reforms to make members of the judiciary less susceptible to corruption; and the Freedom of Information Act.

On the rationalization of fiscal incentives, del Rosario said that while the business community supports the proposal, it also encourages the country’s policy-makers “to clarify the underlying philosophy in giving incentives” which has more to do with the Executive than with Congress.

Del Rosario also said the Electric Power Industry Reform Act should just be fully implemented, rather than amended, to ensure the entry of more investments in the power sector.

“While there are calls for amendment or repeal of Epira, the Philippines business groups, in general, would like to reiterate our stand that while the Epira is not perfect, it’s probably not timely to tamper with it. We think the government must first fully implement the law’s provisions,” he said.

Del Rosario said that people who are “knowledgeable in the power industry” should man Energy Regulatory Commission.

Rhicke Jennings, representing the Joint Foreign Chambers, said foreign businessmen are seeking the removal of the practice of professions in the Foreign Investment Negative List, the amendment of the Foreign Investment Act and the Retail Trade Act.

They are also seeking the amendment of the Condominium Law to allow foreign investment of capital stock in horizontal condominiums, industrial and tourism estates, and retirement villages; and the government procurement law to repeal the domestic preference policy and give qualified foreign bidders equal opportunity in government procurement contracts.

Jennings said amending the government procurement law this way would be a “sign of Philippines business maturity and willingness for Filipinos to compete.”

On the proposed amendment of the cabotage law, an administration measure, Jennings said that rather than an outright amendment of the law, the Joint Foreign Chambers would recommend “considering a number of measures to even the playing field and allow domestic shippers to operate less expensively.”

Among these measures are income-tax credits for the operators, duty-free fuel and importation of parts, and allowing domestic shippers to drydock outside the Philippines, and rationalizing port charges.

Pedro Aguilar, legal counsel of the Philippine Interisland Shipping Association, said amending the cabotage law, which would allow foreign ships to engage in transshipment in the Philippines, would “decimate” the Philippine registry.

Aguilar was reacting to the comments made by a foreign businessman in support of amending the cabotage law.

“If we allow foreign ships to operate without leveling the playing field sooner or later the Philippines registry will just be decimated. Why? Like the Indonesian experience, we will just go to some foreign registry and come back just to enjoy the privileges that foreign ships are enjoying,” Aguilar said.

Drilon urged the business groups to submit to the Senate a “common position” on the cabotage law, which would take into account the “national interest.”

“Something that is favorable to the country should also be considered and should be in the equation,” he said.

The Senate President assured the business groups that “the Senate would respond favorably to many” of their proposals, subject to review.

Del Rosario said the enactment of the proposed legislation is “very critical…to seize the opportunity available now.”

“Our country has gone through its ups and downs but we are at a particular sweet spot…. I think we can hopefully propel the country into this irreversible path of progress and growth which is something we’ve been aspiring for the longest time,” he said. - with report from With Catherine N. Pillas