House closer to passing bill allowing foreigners to own PH public utilities

Rambo Talabong
House closer to passing bill allowing foreigners to own PH public utilities
For lawmakers behind the bill, the 1987 Constitution’s requirement that at least 60% of public utility enterprises' capital stock must be owned by Filipino citizens or corporations is limiting the country’s economic growth

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives terminated plenary debates on the Public Service Act, coming closer to amending the 84-year-old law, the lower house of Congress announced in a statement on Sunday, February 16.

The termination follows 6 months of discussions on House Bill No. 78, which seeks to open up to foreigners the ownership of public utilities in the country.

The next step in the process is the presentation of committee and individual amendments, after which the bill is put to a second-reading vote. The third and final-reading vote takes place after 3 days.

In his explanatory note for the Bill, Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda, the measure’s author, said, “Competition and foreign investment are inhibited because limitations that should only apply to the operation of a public utility are applied to all public services.”

For Salceda and his co-sponsors, the 1987 Constitution’s requirement that at least 60% of public utility enterprises’ capital stock must be owned by Filipino citizens or corporations is limiting the country’s economic growth.

If passed into law, the bill would give the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) secretariat and the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) the power to recommend to Congress the classification of a public service as a public utility. After the recommendation, Congress can pass a law to recognize the recommended service as a public utility.

The bill breezed through the House. The economic affairs panel only spent one hearing to consolidate similar bills and approve the committee report on August 28, 2019. Its immediate passage currently faces resistance from opposition lawmakers, who see foreign ownership over public utilities as unconstitutional. – with reports from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.