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Economic charter change drive gains traction in Philippines

Posted at | Updated as of 06/05/14 5:29 PM

MANILA - A campaign to revise economic provisions of the Philippine constitution, including opening up more sectors to foreign investors, is gaining traction, with a senior cabinet member the latest to throw his support behind the move.

Foreign chambers of commerce and some members of the local business community have been pushing for charter changes to lift current limits to foreign investment that have impeded the flow of foreign capital into the country.

They say the Philippines has better chances of sustaining its record as one of the fastest growing economies in the region if more foreign investment is allowed in.

On Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the country should start considering charter amendments if it was serious about plans to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional economic framework pushed by the United States. It was the first time he had made such a comment.

"We think that the TPP is really quite good for our country," Del Rosario told reporters at the sidelines of a visit to Manila by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

"The problem is if you want to be in TPP, we really have to deal with those economic restrictions in our constitution," he said, adding that the country will be disadvantaged if the United States and Japan become part of the economic grouping expected to make up 40 percent of the world's GDP.

But Philippine President Benigno Aquino has said changes to the constitution are not urgent because the economy has attained strong growth without it. Officials also said the growth momentum is expected to continue with Manila raising its spending for infrastructure upgrades, one of the factors investors look for before committing money into the country.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, who is leading the campaign for charter changes in Congress, said the amendments were likely to be passed for implementation after Aquino's term ends on June 30, 2016.

Belmonte is proposing that a plebiscite for charter change be held alongside the national elections in 2016.

"If we pass this, this would be for the benefit of the next administration. We cannot do anything more except to make it possible for them to have the elbow room to respond to world events," Belmonte told reporters, adding he was positive the measure would be approved by three-fourths of the lower chamber.

"The growth has shifted from West to the East, here in our region," he said.

The lower chamber will continue plenary discussions on the bill proposing charter changes next week. The chamber could approve the bill this year, but it could take until 2015 before it was finalised by the Senate, Belmonte said.

Evan Greenburg, chairman of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, said separately on Wednesday U.S. investment would flow into the country if the Philippines implements reforms related to ownership issues, efficiency of business approvals, and sanctity of legal contracts.