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Lawmakers to act urgently on various legislative agenda before 17th Congress ends

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Various business group leaders urged our lawmakers to act urgently on various legislative agenda before 17th Congress ends and be able to address these issues raised as early as last year.

In the interview of The Philippine Business and News to British Chamber of Commerce Philippines Executive Chairman Chris Nelson last December 2018, he said  “The BCCP and other foreign chambers association in the Philippines would really like to work closely with the lawmakers and have a dialogue and find the middle ground on the issues on legislation. Hopefully before the 17th Congress ends this year the Congress would address some concerns on Train 2, Fiscal incentives on for the foreign companies working in the  Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) zones and also Ease of Doing Business in the country.”

Meanwhile, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Senior Advisor John Forbes said, “the lawmakers must prioritize the legislation on Utilities and Retail Trade Liberalization in order to entice more investors to the Philippines.”

For his part, Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, also shares the sentiments of business groups that there are needs for the changes on the Public Service Act and expects the Congress to insert the needed reforms soon and need not have to wait for another year.

Under Article 12, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, public utilities must be solely owned and operated by firms that are 60-percent owned by Filipinos. However, House Bill (HB) 5828 and Senate Bill (SB) 1754 seek to clearly define what public utilities are, and, in the process, lift foreign ownership restriction on sectors that fall outside it, particularly telecommunications.

Both HB 5828 and SB 1754 listed the public utilities under the distribution of electricity; transmission of electricity; and water pipeline distribution system or sewerage pipeline system. HB 5828 was approved in September 2018. But the Senate counterpart is still awaiting second reading.

The proposed amendment of the 82-year-old Public Service Act, Lopez urged legislators to beat the deadline in passing the new Retail Trade Liberalization Act, which aims to further open up the retail trade industry to foreign participation.

HB 4595 was filed by Rep. Arthur Yap, and SB 1639 by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian intend to remove minimum capital requirements and foreign equity in retail trade.

Both Yap and Gatchalian argued the law has restricted the entry of foreign retailer firms, which could have translated to more employment opportunities.

Last November 2018, the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines asked the lawmakers to expedite the passage of amendments to, among others, the Public Service Act and Retail Trade Liberalization Act and other laws that would affect the entry of investors to the Philippines.

But the bills seeking to liberalize the retail trade industry have yet to make significant progress in both chambers. HB 4595 and SB 1639 are both pending committee deliberations.

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