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House moves to relax foreign business hurdles

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A BILL seeking to amend Republic Act No. 7042, or the Foreign Investments Act of 1991 in order to further open up the Philippine economy to foreign participation secured committee-level approval in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

House Bill No. 4067, authored by Deputy Speaker Arthur C. Yap of the 3rd district of Bohol, proposes to delete provisions relating to the “practice of professions” from the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), thereby lifting the restriction on foreigners practicing their professions in the Philippines.

The measure also proposed to reduce the hiring threshold of foreign businesses wanting to set up shop in the Philippines with a minimum $100,000 paid-in capital to 15 direct hires from 50 currently under RA 7042.

“Hopefully, with these two changes, we can be faithful to the spirit of the Foreign Investments Act and that is to continually liberalize and open up the economy to foreign investments, thereby creating jobs,” Mr. Yap told the joint hearing of the Economic Affairs and the Trade and Industry committees.

“We’re trying to put in order our investment laws to send a clearer message to our investors.”

John D. Forbes, senior adviser of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. (AmCham), told lawmakers at the hearing: “This law, if it’s legislated, along with the PSA (Public Service Act), which has been passed in the House but not yet in the Senate, would put meat on the bones of that point [of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s socioeconomic agenda] because, so far, since that (agenda) was released in 2016, no legislated reforms have been heard, so we encourage the Congress to continue with this and others.”

The House earlier approved House Bill 5828, amending the Public Service Act by providing a clearer definition of public services and public utilities in order to lift foreign ownership restrictions in telecommunications.

“The Philippines has created since the 1987 Constitution the perception that it’s closed to foreign professionals,” Mr. Forbes said. “I think the foreign chambers would like to support the proposal of the Deputy Speaker to simply remove it from the Foreign Investments Act.”

On the proposed change in direct hiring threshold, he added: “For $100,000 you cannot employ 50 workers because the minimum wage of the National Capital Region, when this was legislated, was P142, today it’s P475,” he explained. “For P5.4 million, which is $100,000, we cannot sustain a labor force of 50 persons.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan