MANILA, Philippines - About 25 to 30 members of Filipino organizations abroad appealed to some senators on Thursday over the need to change the 1987 Constitution to make it more amenable and open to 100 percent foreign ownership of investments in the country.
Loida Nicholas Lewis, a New York-based national chairperson of the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG), supported calls for charter change to encourage more foreign investments in the country.
“Being an international businesswoman, I talked with people who are investing. I said, ‘why are you not investing in the Philippines? The answer to me was: bad address,’” Lewis said.
“Meaning to say, rather than investing in the Philippines where they are limited to 40 percent ownership, they would rather invest in other Asian countries where they could have 100 percent,” said Lewis, who is also active with a group that moves to amend some US legislation to benefit Filipinos based in the US.
In a dialogue with Sen. Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations at the Senate on Thursday, Lewis noted that there is now a need to amend the Philippine Constitution on the provision about the 60-40 percent limitation of ownership for foreign investors in the country.
“In that sense... there is probably a need to look up at the Constitutional mandate of 60-40 and have it changed if we want to have complete freedom to invest in the Philippines,” she said.
Members of the USP4GG and other Filipino groups based abroad visited the Senate for a dialogue with Legarda. Sen. Aquilino Martin Pimentel III also welcomed the OFW groups who outlined their concerns ranging from pensions of Filipino soldiers,
Eric Lachica, from Washington DC, echoed the concerns by US counterparts on the limitations of the Philippine Constitution on foreign investment in the country.
“One of the pressing issues in the bilateral relations with the United States and the Philippines, is the so-called transnational partnership. It is a major concern of our American friends since they are unable to have foreign direct investments in the Philippines,” Lachica said.
“Will the Senate consider changes in the Philippine Constitution to allow majority ownership by American corporations, especially in key industries here in the Philippines?,” Lachica asked during the dialogue.
Lachica recalled the US Ambassador himself has brought out issue, in a forum sometime last year, that Filipinos are allowed to buy hospitals in Guam, and yet the Americans cannot do the same in the Philippines.
In response, Legarda said it would take charter change to change the provision of Constitution .
“Cha-cha, it is something that President Aquino is really sensitive about. It really have to be an administration priority in the next three years, if we want it to happen at all,” she said.
Legarda noted that China and Vietnam have big foreign investments even if they do not allow 100 percent ownership of land or foreign investments.
Pimentel, for his part, explained that there are some field of investments in the country where the nationality requirement is governed by the Constitution.
“Cha0cha is not the exclusive domain of the Senate, it also covers the House of Representatives, and the people,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel said the Senate can also help in matters which need to amend various laws on foreign investing in the country.
The group also lauded the Senate for the approval of the amendments to the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Act, which allows Filipinos abroad to participate in the local elections.
Lewis committed that she and her group will be working for a more aggressive campaign to enable more Filipinos abroad to participate in the elections here.
“Unfortunately, the law was passed after the deadline for registration. But we are still three years ahead of 2016. So we will be registering for 2016,” Lewis said.
The joint panel of the Senate and the House of Representatives approved last month the OAV which had removed a provision that mandates Filipino immigrants abroad to execute an affidavit stating that they will return to the Philippines within three years before they are allowed to vote in absentia.
Due to this provision, many Filipinos abroad are wary about participating in the past elections in the country. The affidavit required them to come back within three years or face permanent deletion for the registry of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
In the previous hearings at the Senate, Pimentel noted that there are 915,000 OAV applicants for 2013 compared to 589,830 in 2010. Only 25 percent, accounting for 153,323 voted in 2010.
With the removal of the condition to execute an affidavit, senators were optimistic that more Filipinos will participate in the voting overseas.