PASSAGE of priority economic bills will be delayed in the Senate as plenary sessions will be suspended from Aug. 6 to 23 while the capital Metro Manila is placed on lockdown due to the heightened threat from the coronavirus Delta variant.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told BusinessWorld in a Viber message that it would affect the “Foreign Investments Act, Public Services Act, Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos, to name a few.”

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, however, clarified that they intend to start discussing the measures on foreign investments and public services on Aug. 3.

“We will take up the economic measures today (Aug. 3) and tomorrow and try to close the period interpellations for both this week. Amendments will be done when we get back,” said Mr. Zubiri in a Viber message.

“Hopefully by the first week of September would be the approval for 3rd and final reading,” he said.

Mr. Sotto also said that a plenary session may still be called if deemed necessary. Committee hearings will also push through online, upon the discretion of the chair.

Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez is pushing for a third quarter passage of the pending bills that would open up the country to more foreign investment.

“As long as we are able to pass those laws this third quarter, I think there’s still a good chance to benefit from the improvement in the investment climate and a more liberal structure that will allow higher foreign equity participation in these critical sectors like retail and public service,” he told ANC on Tuesday.

He noted recent increases in foreign direct investment (FDI), adding that he hopes recent tax reform measures would help back more foreign investment recovery.

“We hope that these three laws will be put into effect by this third quarter, hopefully before October,” he said, referring to the bills on public service, foreign investments, and retail trade liberalization.

The bill seeking to change the country’s 85-year-old public service law will allow full foreign ownership in the public service sector, while the measure amending the law on foreign investment will lower the number of direct local hires required for foreign companies. Both bills are pending in the Senate.

Amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act to lower the required paid-up capital for foreign retailers is pending at the bicameral conference committee of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Fitch Solutions on Monday said the three laws will not be “massive gamechangers” in the near term, but they will back medium- and long-term recovery.

FDI net inflows more than doubled to $679 million in April after coming off a low base amid strict lockdown measures in the same month last year, data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed. Net inflows in the first four months of 2021 went up 56.3% to $3.056 billion compared to the same period last year.

At the House of Representatives, legislative work will continue despite the suspension of plenary sessions and physical office operations from Aug. 6 to 20.

“Vital measures can still be tackled as committee hearings will still be held via remote (meetings),” House Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco said in a press release.

“By suspending regular office work and other preventive measures, we hope to contribute to the government’s effort in preventing a surge of infection that could possibly put our health care system in serious jeopardy,” he added. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Jenina P. Ibañez and Russell Louis C. Ku