Poe favors easing foreign ownership in media, utilities

Karen Lema, Reuters

Grace Poe. File Photo.

MANILA - Grace Poe, frontrunner in the Philippines' presidential election campaign, said on Wednesday she favored relaxing restrictions on foreign ownership in utilities and media as part of changes she would introduce in the constitution.

The May 9 election is being closely watched by investors who fear the political succession could derail average economic growth of more than 6 percent a year and stall efforts to crack down on corruption made under outgoing President Benigno Aquino III, who is limited to one term.

Poe, who is a senator, has campaigned on a pro-poor platform, promising to build on Aquino's programs of creating jobs and building infrastructure, which have helped propel one of Asia's fastest growing economies.

Foreigners are barred from owning media companies in the Philippines and are restricted to 40 percent ownership of public utilities.

"Within my first month in office, it will be part of the agenda, the economic amendments of our constitution," Poe, 47, told a business forum in Manila, referring to relaxing restrictions on foreign ownership in utilities and media.

"Why not allow more foreign ownership for as long as they employ Filipinos and there is also a technology transfer? I am not for land ownership but I am for media, for certain utilities, for academic institutions and also for the medical profession."

The Supreme Court on March 8 ruled that Poe, who spent much of her life in the United States, was eligible to run for president, reversing a decision by the election commission that disqualified her on grounds that she failed to meet a 10-year residency requirement.

Poe also supported the lifting of a bank secrecy law as senators launched an investigation on Tuesday into millions of dollars hackers stole from the Bangladesh central bank's account at the New York Fed and found their way into a Philippine bank.

Poe has been leading opinion polls with Aquino's chosen successor, former interior minister Manuel Roxas, lagging behind her and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

She is the adopted daughter of action movie hero Fernando Poe who died soon after making an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2004.

She said she was also keen on signing free trade agreements with other countries if elected.

On the South China Sea, Poe said there was a "need to be able to engage China constructively to follow a peaceful code of conduct" but added the Philippine military should be strengthened.

"If our defense is strong then we will not be bullied as easily as we are being bullied now."

China claims most of the South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines and neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims