A MEASURE removing restrictions on foreigners from practicing their professions in the Philippines, which nearly made it out of the 17th Congress that ended in June, has been filed anew in the Senate.

Senators Francis N. Pangilinan and Sherwin T. Gatchalian filed Senate Bill Nos. 418 and 919, respectively, that propose to amend Republic Act No. 7042, or the “Foreign Investments Act (FIA) of 1991,” by removing “practice of profession” from the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL).

The 11th FINL, under Executive Order No. 185, included “practice of professions” on the “No Foreign Equity” list.

“After almost three decades since its passage, the FIA must be amended in order to keep up with technological and economic advancements in the region and the world,” Mr. Pangilinan said in the bill’s explanatory note.

Mr. Gatchalian, in his bill, noted that the Philippines remains unattractive to foreign investments “because our investment laws are less open and generally more inhibitory compared to those of our neighbors in the ASEAN” (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

Both bills require that the FINL be reviewed annually instead of once every two years.

The 11th FINL was updated in October 2018, three years and five months since the last FINL was issued in May 2015, under then president Benigno S.C. Aquino III.

The same measure provides for the establishment of a Web portal with information such as investment policies and industry data to guide investors on opportunities.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives committees on economic affairs and on trade and industry will begin tackling the counterpart measure — House Bills No. 300, 399 and 1221 — on Tuesday. The House versions included another provision that proposed to reduce the minimum employment requirement to 15 from 50 direct local hires for small- and medium-sized domestic enterprises that are established by foreign investors with paid-in capital of at least $100,000.

The measure almost hurdled the 17th Congress after it bagged final approval in the House in January; but failed to secure third-reading passage in the Senate ahead of the June 3 adjournment. The said provision was not present in the Senate Bill.

Amendment of the FIA is among priority measures which the Cabinet economic development cluster wants approved in the first regular session of the 18th Congress, which closes on June 5 next year.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles on Aug. 21 said the cluster will push measures that will open the Philippines to more foreign investment, including amendments to Commonwealth Act No. 146, or the Public Service Act, which will lift foreign ownership limits in utilities; and RA 8762, or the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, which will reduce the required minimum paid-in capital for foreign investors.

The said measures were also on the wish list of measures which 14 local and foreign business groups submitted to the Office of the President and both chambers of Congress last month. — Charmaine A. Tadalan