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ECCP exec says Cha-cha issues caused 'uncertainty' among members

An official of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) told a Senate panel on Monday that the issues surrounding the Charter change (Cha-cha) has caused "uncertainty" to some of their members.

ECCP Executive Director Florian Gottein made the remark when asked by Senator Grace Poe if their members are being hesitant because of the issues surrounding the Charter amendments during the second hearing of the Senate subcommittee on constitutional amendments and revisions of codes hearing on Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 (RBH6).

"I have to be honest. We got some calls from some of our members following the news and the political debate about how this might unfold or in which direction it could actually move further. So there is some uncertainty out there, yes," Gottein said.

Meanwhile, Julian Payne, president of Canadian Chamber of Commerce who represented the Joint Foreign Chamber (JFC) during the hearing, said that they support the easing on foreign direct investments (FDI) "wherever this is possible."

"I’ll make a caveat at the moment. We are of the opinion that the removal of economic restrictions would facilitate increased foreign direct investments in sectors where such investment is currently restricted. We recognize that the government's mandate and indeed duty to all countries is to protect natural interests to some restrictions on [Free Trade Agreement]. That happens in every country," Payne said.

"In most national economies, this interest is protected by use of legislation or executive action, not in constitution. The advantage of using legislation or executive action is that with these forms of regulation, both the legislature and/or the executive can quickly adjust to changing business conditions in the international environment," he added.

Gottein backed Payne's position, but he clarified that the issue of amending the 1987 Constitution is "purely a Filipino matter."

"If the Filipino people decide to amend the Constitution, we would actually be in favor of removing the economic restrictions from the Constitution," Gottein said.

Gottein said the recent amendments to the Public Services Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Foreign Investments Act, as well as the Department of Justice opinion on the implementing rules and regulations of the Renewable Energy Act "have really created a more conducive business environment for foreign investors to really come in."

Support for economic amendments

Meanwhile, Dr. Raul Fabella, academic and Economist Emeritus Professor of the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Economics, expressed support for the lifting of economic provisions of the Charter, adding that the amendments should be done as quickly as possible.

"My take on the development experience of nations is that all progress boils down to investments, specifically the share of income that nations set aside for investment or what is called the investment rate...The Philippine investment rate is traditionally the lowest among the major ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries," he said.

He noted that the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership adds to the anti-investment perception "which...signaled to the world our national fundamental discomfort with investors here [whether] foreign or local."

However, Fabella raised that the government needs to do more than amending the Charter to attract foreign investments.

"So the lifting of the restrictive rules will not itself reverse the investment rate downward trend. We will still need better rule of law, lower power cost, better logistics infrastructures... as part of our pro-investment ecology," he said.

In an ambush interview, Senator Sonny Angara, who presided over the hearing, said the upper house is considering conducting hearings in the Visayas and Mindanao on RBH 6.

The Resolution of Both Houses 6, which seeks to lift the 40% restriction on foreign ownership in advertising, education, and public utilities, is still under deliberation by the Senate. The House of Representatives, for its part, has vowed to adopt the Senate version as soon as it is approved.—RF, GMA Integrated News