Economic Cha-cha opposed by another biz group due to timing

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Economic Cha-cha opposed by another biz group due to timing
This file photo shows House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.
Boy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — Another business group on Monday added their voice to a growing chorus of opposition to any moves to amend the Constitution, saying attempts came at a wrong time.

While they support the easing of the 33-year-old charter’s protectionist provisions to attract more foreign investments, the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) said timing is not right, not with the coronavirus pandemic yet to be fully addressed.

“It is akin to undertaking house renovation while the family struggles to pay for the food, basic education, hospitalization expenses and other basic necessities badly needed by the family,” FINEX President Francis Lim said in a statement.

FINEX’s disapproval to charter change at this time came after similar resistance from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Makati Business Club— all of which cited timing as problematic. 

It also came days after Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, in a forum organized by FINEX, backed current efforts to dismantle restrictive economic provisions that prevent full foreign ownership in sectors like retail, media, and public utilities.

The broader public have grown opposed to any effort to tinker with the Constitution over suspicions that the seating government is out to perpetuate itself in power. This was also the position of some businesspeople, whose growing consensus against charter change currently rolling at the House of Representatives came 16 months before a looming change in leadership through the presidential elections in May 2022. 

Suspicions remained on the air despite assurances from no less than House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco that term limits for public officials will not be touched, and that a plebiscite to ratify the economic amendments would be held simultaneously with next year’s national polls.  

For FINEX’s Lim, legislators should devote their time and resources to getting the rest of the Duterte administration’s preferred stimulus measures passed and “revive and restore our economy to normalcy.”

Indeed, of the four bills cited crucial by economic managers for a convincing rebound, only the P4.5-trillion national budget this year had been enacted, while the rest are on varying levels of legislative approval.

The nearest to passage is the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) bill which would allow banks to unload their unpaid debts, keep healthy levels of capital, and therefore lend again to consumers and businesses. 

It was not clear when the enrolled FIST bill was transmitted to President Rodrigo Duterte’s desk for signature, but Congress ratified the measure last December 15. Under the Constitution, the president only has 30 days to sign or veto the bill from transmittal, otherwise it automatically takes effect.

“We respectfully request the President to sign into law (FIST)…, which was ratified by Congress before its Christmas break,” Lim said.

Businesses are also pleading to accelerate the passage of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill, which would instantly cut income taxes to 25% for large firms and 20% for small and medium enterprises. The current rate is 30%. On Monday, Apart from FINEX, PCCI issued yet again another statement to lobby for CREATE.

“Congress is in a good position to do this as CREATE is in the last step before being enacted into a legislation,” PCCI President Benedicto Yujuico said. “CREATE will provide the momentum for the country to attract foreign direct investments.”

A little far in the legislative mill is the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) bill. GUIDE aims to salvage failing firms in priority sectors by allowing government to own stakes on them. The measure is still being deliberated at the Senate.

“There are low hanging fruits which Congress can focus on to help the country successfully emerge from the pandemic and make it more attractive to investors,” Lim said.




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