Lifting of foreign investment restrictions, other Constitutional Reform proposals get multi-sectoral support in Congress

February 13, 2020

The proposals to lift restrictions on foreign investments and increase the internal revenue allotment in the 1987 Constitution on Wednesday got a big boost from members of Congress and the business community.

The Makati Business Club, Anvil Business Club, Wallace Business Forum, and the Management Association of the Philippines were among the groups that endorsed the proposed constitutional reforms during a public hearing conducted by the House of Representatives’ committee on constitutional amendments at the Batasang Pambansa.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Constitutional Reform (IATF), a body created by the President to push for the proposed amendments, assured the business and academic communities that their proposals would encourage more business activities in the regions.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said the IATF submitted the proposed constitutional reforms to Congress to give people the needed economic and political environment and encourage inclusive growth in the country.

Malaya said the IATF’s proposal for lifting the restrictions on foreign investments complemented another plan to empower the regions as more significant funding for local government units (LGUs) could speed up infrastructure projects and make regions more conducive to new businesses and employment.

He also said that empowering the regions would raise the level of the country’s competitiveness in the face of growing trade competition in the global economy.

“A more progressive regional economy will prepare them for the influx of foreign investments that we want when we remove the restrictions on industries currently off-limits to 100% foreign investment,” Malaya said.

“We need the political reforms because we want to make our people trust our democratic system more,” he said.

Finance expert and former Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar said the Philippines’ strict rules constrict the inflow of foreign capital, thus putting the country behind other developing nations in terms of developing industries that are capital- and technology-intensive.

Olivar said investment restrictions could also be responsible for the country’s lowest score among Asian countries in terms of cutting poverty rates.

Thus, it is only logical for the economic restrictions in the Constitution to be removed so Filipinos could benefit from a more vibrant investment climate, he stressed.

The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) backed the IATF’s proposal to liberalize the economic provisions in the Constitution but wanted the restrictions on foreign ownership of land even in the special economic zones to remain. This was supported by the IATF.

The League of Provinces of the Philippines expressed support for the IATF’s proposal for economic liberalization, strengthening fiscal of autonomy for local government units, and the restructuring of elected officials’ terms of office, which were earlier approved by the House committee on constitutional amendments.

Malaya told members of Congress they should not fear the ban on political dynasties and turncoats as these would improve and make the electoral system more credible without removing the right of current politicians from continuing their stint in public service.

He also thanked Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairperson of the House Committee on Constitutional Reforms, for his support for the proposed political and economic reforms, especially those that empower the regions.

“We are encouraged by this support from Congressman Rodriguez, and we urge the other congressmen to follow his lead,” the DILG official said.

In the same hearing, Prof. Jose Ramon Casiple, a veteran reform advocate, said political reforms were needed in ensuring the Philippines’ social and economic progress.

Casiple said the Constitution constricted efforts to make political reforms a reality because it concentrated government resources in the hands of the national government under the current unitary system.

“Many political reforms in the 1987 Constitution were never carried out,” Casiple said, citing the ban on political dynasties and the reforms in the political party system.

He said the ban on political dynasties should not be left in the hands of the political elites who have benefitted from the political and electoral system enshrined in the Constitution without being curtailed by voters.

“The development of political clans have developed the phenomenon of a monopoly in political power,” Casiple said.

At the same time, Malaya said the IATF was not pushing for the creation of a new political entity that will add another layer of bureaucracy in seeking additional funds and development planning powers for the regions’ local government units (LGUs).

Neither is the IATF proposing to curtail the electoral rights of voters, including politicians and their families, through the proposed ban on political dynasties, as the prohibition should only encourage more participation by citizens in free elections to ensure their confidence remains steadfast in our democracy, he said.

Malaya said the IATF wanted to empower the regions by institutionalizing a new constitutional provision that gives LGUs bigger funds so they could implement more significant projects that would energize the local economy.

The IATF also sought the empowerment of each Regional Development Council (RDC), to enable the body to decide which development projects should be implemented based on their priorities, he also said.

Lastly, Malaya said the IATF was dropping its proposal to rename the RDC into the Regional Development Authority(RDA) to address concerns that it is an entirely new political entity.

However, the IATF has stuck to its proposal to give the RDCs project planning, funding, and monitoring powers, he added.