Long overdue laws finally passed

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

On the eleventh hour of Mr. Duterte’s presidency, we were gifted with four new laws, all of which are long overdue but highly favorable.

Allow me to express my gratitude to the legislature and the Office of the President for the passage of the Trade Liberalization Act, the Public Service Act and the Foreign Investment Act. Working in conjunction with the other, these laws further open up the economy and make the country more competitive in attracting foreign capital.

As I have always said, foreign direct investments (FDIs) is the silver bullet that can solve poverty, create wealth and improve the lives of our people. FDIs provide capital accumulation, which helps reduce our budget deficit. A reduced budget deficit, in turn, gives government the elbowroom to spend on infrastructure and social services. FDIs provide high paying jobs where low income earners can migrate to. They increase economic activity, exports revenues and taxes – all of which we need to cope with our foreign debt. FDIs bring in new technologies and best manufacturing practices from abroad. They provide competition to local firms, which encourage them to level up.

For those unaware, the salient points of the three newly passed laws are as follows: The Trade Liberalization Act adjusts the minimum paid up capital of foreign retailers from P125 million to P25 million. It also simplifies the qualifications for entry.

The Public Service Act allows foreigners to fully own companies engaged in the telecommunication, shipping, airline, railway, toll road and transport networking sectors.

The Foreign Investment Act reduces the industries reserved for Filipinos, allows foreigners 100 percent ownership in startups and MSMEs. It also allows certain foreign professionals (e.g. scientist and engineers) to practice in the Philippines.

The passage of these laws perfectly compliments the lifting of the mining moratorium, rice liberalization and CREATE. All these augur well for the economy as we march ahead to the next administration.

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After more than a decade of writing about the billboard menace in our cities and after numerous appeals to the DPWH and the Office of the President, I was immensely delighted that Malacañang finally issued Executive Order 165, a statute that regulates outdoor advertising. Although the EO should have come much sooner – before our cities were inundated by billboards, I am nonetheless grateful for its passage.

In a press statement upon signing Executive Order 165, the President echoed what I have been saying all these years. He said, “Unregulated signs and billboards pose traffic distractions and hazards, constitute threats to public safety and contribute to environmental degradation and urban blight due to their inappropriate location, site glare, size, structural configuration and uncontrolled height limit.”

Indeed, the proliferation of outdoor signs has gone out of control. The sheer number of billboards, erected without rhyme or reason, has consigned our cities to blight, visual clutter and ugliness. Billboard and LED signs distract us from clearly seeing traffic signs, thereby posing road hazards. They trap carbon dioxide from flowing out of our highways, which we inevitably breathe in to our respiratory peril. In terms of the environment, colossal amounts of used billboard tarpaulins clog our landfills. When burnt, they produce noxious gases that poison the air.

In his executive order, the President itemized the rules that govern outdoor signs. Among the stipulations are that billboard sizes must not exceed 250 square meters; that they must not exceed 26 meters in height in urban areas and 36 meters in rural areas; that they must maintain ample distance to high tension wires according to the provisions of the Philippine Electrical Code; that they must conform to National Structural Code in terms of wind and rain resistance; that wall mounted billboards can only be installed in blank walls and should conform to the parameters of the National Building Code; that the distance between billboards must be no less than 100 meters.

EO 165 provides sensible and reasonable guidelines. But I fear two scenarios. The first is that the national and local authorities may impose these stipulations only on new billboards while exempting existing ones. This should not happen.

As it stands, there are about 8,500 billboards that mar Metro Manila’s skyline. Metro Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro are inundated too. The damage is done in terms of urban blight and safety hazards. To make exceptions, based on expediency or accommodation, betrays the President’s intention and will deprive our people of safer, less visually cluttered cities.

My second fear is that exceptions and alternative interpretations may render EO 165 benign.

The DPWH has a bad track record. Since 2011, the DPWH was given the mandate to control outdoor signs and ensure that only those that conform to the national building code are given permits. Yet, thousands of billboard permits were issued despite blatant engineering infractions. Each were justified by an alternative interpretation of the building code. In other words, for expediency.

Take a moment to notice how many billboards are allowed to operate today even if they are within striking distance of high voltage cables and transformers. Notice how many are installed over, across or along public thoroughfares and center islands. Notice how many block fire exits in buildings. Notice how many are installed in LRT and MRT terminal stations or their columns and beams. Notice how many LED signs operate with glaring luminosity. All these are disallowed by the national building code.

EO 186 only reiterates the general guidelines of the national building code. It is the President’s way of saying that the DPWH and local governments must seriously enforce these regulations. I hope that this time, with EO 165 in play, the law will be implemented according to the spirit in which it was written. We need to save our cities from blight and protect our citizens from billboard disasters as we have seen during Typhoon Milenyo.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan and Twitter @aj_masigan


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