Senate of the Philippines

Bills easing restrictions on foreign investors among Senate’s priorities

Mara Cepeda
Bills easing restrictions on foreign investors among Senate’s priorities

LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES. Senate President Vicente Sotto III (center) presides over a committee of the whole hearing on April 12, 2021.

Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB

The Senate agrees to hold an additional plenary session every Thursday to hasten the passage of its priority bills

The Senate plans to expedite the passage of three bills that would allow full foreign ownership of public services and fewer restrictions on foreign investments.

These three measures, which were earlier certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, are now among the 15 bills that senators hope to pass by June 4, the last day before the sine die adjournment of Congress.

In separate text messages to Rappler on Tuesday, May 18, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri listed these three bills among the chamber’s priorities: 

  • Senate Bill (SB) No. 2094, which seeks to amend the Public Service Act
  • SB 1156, which seeks to amend the Foreign Investments Act of 1991
  • SB 1840, which would amend the Retail Trade Liberalization Act of 2000

The bill amending the Public Service Act would allow 100% foreign ownership of public services like telecommunications, power, and transportation by making a distinction between how public services and public utilities are defined.

The 1987 Constitution requires 60% Filipino ownership if the firm is operating as a “public utility.”

But SB 2094 aims to limit the definition of public utilities to just three services: electricity distribution, electricity transmission, and water pipeline distribution and sewerage.

This means that if SB 2094 is passed into law, other industries would no longer be considered as public utilities and would therefore be exempted from the 60-40 constitutional rule on foreign ownership. 

SB 1156, meanwhile, further eases rules on foreign businesses, while SB 1840 would lower the required paid-up capital for foreign retail enterprises.

The House of Representatives passed its own versions of these three bills in 2020.

Aside from the three measures, other priority bills identified by Sotto and Zubiri include the following:

  • Creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos
  • Modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection
  • Third package of the Duterte government’s comprehensive tax reform program
  • Proposed Internet Transactions Act
  • Proposed Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act
  • Proposed Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery Act
  • Taxes on Philippine offshore gaming operators
  • Amusement tax on digital platform and offsite betting
  • Postponement of elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
  • Tax amnesty
  • Early voting for senior citizens
  • Proposed hybrid election law

Sotto said senators have agreed to his proposal to hold sessions every Thursday until the first week of June to ensure the timely passage of these bills.

Congress traditionally conducts plenary sessions Mondays to Wednesdays only. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.