PHL, foreign business groups urge Congress to prioritize economic reform bills

BUSINESS GROUPS and foreign chambers on Wednesday urged lawmakers to approve the remaining economic reform measures, including the amendments to the Public Service Act (PSA), in the homestretch of the 18th Congress’ third regular session.

Thirteen business groups and foreign chambers sent letters to Congress leaders calling on them to pass 11 bills that they say would help drive the economy’s post-pandemic recovery.

One of the priority measures is the bill amending the PSA, which has been approved by the House of Representatives but is still pending at the Senate. It aims to reclassify “public utilities” such as telecommunications and transportation to “public services” and allow more foreign ownership in these industries.

“While supporting the amendments to the Public Service Act, the business groups and foreign chambers expressed opposition to the inclusion of any provision in the pending Senate version, Senate Bill 2094, that expands the legislative franchise requirement to public services beyond those provided under existing laws,” the statement read.

Also included in the business groups’ priority list are the last two tax reform packages being pushed by the Duterte administration — Property Valuation and Assessment Reform and Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation.

Also identified as priorities are bills seeking to relax the Bank Secrecy Law, ease the payment of taxes, provide open access in data transmission, and promote digital payments.

Other bills include the Philippine Creative Industries Development Act, the creation of the Department of Water Resources Management, Freedom of Information Act, and Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing System Act.

“Most of these 11 reform bills have reached advanced stages in either chamber of Congress and only require counterpart action in the other chamber,” the statement read.

The business groups and foreign chambers also expressed hope for an “early ratification” by Congress of the reconciled versions of three bills, namely the Foreign Investment Act amendments, creation of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Electric Vehicles and Charging Stations Act.

Sought for comment, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told BusinessWorld via Viber message that most of the said bills being pushed by the business groups are already pending at the Senate plenary.

“We are on it. It is just a senator or two who still have some issues (on the bills),” Mr. Sotto said.

Sought for comment, House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco has not responded as of deadline time.

Congress is scheduled to resume session on Nov. 8, but the Senate is expected to focus on national budget deliberations.

It adjourns for the Christmas break from Dec. 18 – Jan. 16, 2022, and resume session from Jan. 17 to Feb. 4. After a three-month break for the elections, session resumes on May 23 and sine die adjournment on June 4.

The statement was backed by the Bankers Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters, Inc., and Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Foundation, Inc.

Also supporting the statement are the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, Inc., and Korean Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave with inputs from Russell Louis C. Ku

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