MANILA (UPDATE)— The Senate on Wednesday approved a measure seeking to ease foreign ownership restrictions in select sectors such as telcos and transportation under the Public Services Act.
Senate Bill No. 2094, which will amend the PSA, was approved by the Senate on its third and final reading with lawmakers voting 19-3.
Under current laws, transportation and telecommunications are public utilities and must be 60 percent owned by Filipinos.
The amendment to the law will define which services count as utilities and should be majority-owned by Filipinos.
"With 19 affirmative votes and 3 negative votes, Senate Bill 2094 is approved on third reading," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros explained that while she believes that the intention of the amendments is good, she is not in favor of fully opening foreign ownership in some industries.
"I commend the sponsor and my colleagues for continuing to reserve our common carriers (our buses, jeepneys, taxis) and our seaports and airports mainly to Filipinos and to companies whose maximum foreign ownership is limited to 40 percent," the senator said.
"I am saddened that many other critical services have been opened up to 100 percent foreign ownership by our bill when, as Senator Recto repeatedly proposed, we could have limited foreign participation say to 70 percent, which allows Filipinos and even the state to have direct knowledge of what goes on inside these critical facilities," she added.
Hontiveros emphasized that she is against allowing 100% opening in telecoms.
"By allowing 100 percent foreign ownership, we are opening our phones, and all our internet-connected devices, appliances and critical public facilities to foreign state and non-state interests that may have malevolent designs on our national security," she said.
"This is a fact and the government is aware of the existence of these clear and present threats."
Senator Grace Poe, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, said the main goal of the law is to give consumers "choices."
"I would like to point out, that in this bid to liberalize our economy, we have taken national security concerns into consideration. We recognize that certain industries are critical infrastructures," said Poe.
"The country is now open for business but it must be according to our terms and our specific needs. Let me point out the fact that increasing our foreign domestic investment limit is not a novel idea, but is in accordance with the global trend... We are only making our country more competitive in the world stage," she added.
During his last State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his call to pass laws that would attract foreign investments including the Public Services Act.
Several foreign chambers in the country have expressed support for the measure, saying the Philippines should loosen restrictions to remain at par with its ASEAN peers.
-- with a report from Robert Mano, ABS-CBN news
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