By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
THREE MEASURES aimed at relaxing foreign investment restrictions in the country are expected to be approved by the Senate next month.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri told a televised news briefing that the proposals amending the Public Service Act, Foreign Investments Act and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act would be prioritized when Congress’ third and final session opens on July 26.
The three measures have all been certified by President Rodrigo R. Duterte as urgent, and are part of a list of priority bills being pushed by business groups and foreign chambers.
“’Yan ay aming matatapos by next month. ’Yan ay ang aming pangako sa ating mahal na Pangulo (Those are what we will finish by next month. That is our promise to the President),” he said.
The bill amending Commonwealth Act No. 146, otherwise known as the Public Service Act, is still up for second reading at the Senate.
Also, up for second reading is the measure seeking to amend the country’s foreign investment law to relax restrictions on foreign companies.
The bill lowering the required paid-up capital for foreign retail enterprises was already approved on third and final reading at the Senate. This measure has yet to be finalized by the Bicameral Conference Committee, Mr. Zubiri said separately in a Viber message.
The Senate is also committed to approving the bill creating a separate department for migrant Filipino workers “by August or September,” Mr. Zubiri added.
However, the Senate has yet to decide on whether or not it will push for the third stimulus package, which was earlier approved by the House of Representatives.
“Tinitignan lang po namin ang fiscal capacity ng bansa at pag-uusapan naman ito (Bayanihan III) next week, right after the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the President,” Mr. Zubiri said, who personally expressed support for the measure.
Bayanihan III will be discussed in a Senate caucus on July 27, Mr. Zubiri said.
Presidential Spokesperson Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. maintained that the government needs to know first whether or not the funds under the previous Bayanihan measures were fully utilized.
“Ang atin lang gustong malaman ay kung sapat na ba ’yung pondo na nasa 2021 budget at 2020 budget, at ’yung isyu na kung mayroon ba talagang di nagasta sa Bayanihan II,” he told a televised news briefing. “Kung mayroon po, that would show na baka hindi kailangan ng Bayanihan III (If there are unused funds, that would show that maybe there is no need for Bayanihan III),” he told a televised news briefing.
At the same briefing, Mr. Roque said the proposed law seeking to end the end of contract (endo) schemes in the country remains a legislative priority and has been certified urgent by the President.
“We leave it to Congress, because unfortunately, no amount of certification can lead to an enactment of a law if the wisdom of Congress is otherwise,” Mr. Roque said. “We continue to appeal to the Congress to pass this anti-endo bill as the term of the President ends.”
In 2019, Mr. Duterte vetoed a similar bill that would have protected workers from labor contracting practices, saying the measure does not strike a balance between the welfare of employees and the interest of employers.
In a statement sent to BusinessWorld, Mr. Zubiri said the proposed law postponing the Bangsamoro regular elections is also set to be approved by the Senate in the next two months.
Civic group One Bangsamoro Movement asked the Congress to ensure the passage of the bill “before the filing of certification of candidacy for 2022 national elections.”
“While we respect its legislative plenary power, we strongly urge the both houses of Congress to pass the said bill that is faithful and consistent with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” it said in a statement. “Giving extra to the Bangsamoro Transition will fully address the historical injustices and will give meaning to genuine peace in Mindanao.”
Mr. Zubiri said the proposed Bureau of Fire Protection Modernization Act, Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing Systems Act, Increasing Statutory Rape Age Act, Military and Uniformed Personnel Insurance Fund Act, Philippine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Act, among others, will be prioritized for approval.
“The Senators will listen intently to the President’s remaining legislative requests and discuss it amongst ourselves in a Caucus that we traditionally call for the day after the SONA,” Mr. Zubiri said.
Albay Rep. and House Ways and Means Chair Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda, meanwhile, urged the Congress to ensure the quick passage of the 2022 national budget.
“If we are to legislate the rest of President Duterte’s fiscal and economic reforms, we also need to enact the 2022 budget early,” he said separately. “That gives us time to discuss and approve other measures.”
Mr. Salceda said the Ways and Means Committee still has to tackle measures such as the creation of a fiscal regime for the mining industry, proposed Ease of Paying Taxes Act, proposed motor vehicle taxes and proposed excise tax on single-use plastics.