MANILA — “We need to sustain our economic growth, or grow faster, to create more and better jobs for our people,” House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. stressed, noting Labor Force Surveys which showed that in January, April and July 2014 there were 2.8 million unemployed Filipino workers and 7 million underemployed.
While the Philippines has emerged as one of the best performing economies in Asia and the world in recent years, Belmonte said that realistically, “While much has been achieved in the last four years since President Benigno Aquino assumed office, much remains to be accomplished,” the House Speaker candidly stressed before a recent meeting with foreign and local business leaders.
The Speaker, with senior leaders of the bigger chamber of Congress, met in consultation last Nov. 26 with leaders of the Joint Foreign Chambers and Philippine Business Groups to craft a common agenda for policy reforms to maximize the inflow of direct foreign investments to propel inclusive and sustained growth.
Citing statistics, Belmonte noted that in 2012 the country’s GDP grew by 6.8% and 7.2% in 2013, notwithstanding the weak global economy and the havoc wrought by the series of calamities that hit the country.
The Speaker also noted that in terms of wealth and income levels, however, the country continues to lag behind, noting that as of 2013, Philippine GDP per capita was only US$ 2,587 compared with Indonesia’s US$ 3,475, Thailand’s US$ 5,779 and US$ 10,514 for Malaysia.
“Clearly, we need more (direct) investments and business activities to absorb our growing labor force,” he stressed.
Because of the “improved macroeconomic fundamentals,” Belmonte said that “for the first time, the Philippines got an investment grade credit rating from all major rating agencies,” which translates to lower cost of credit and capital that augurs well for investments.
To further ensure sound monetary and fiscal management and policies adopted by the government, the Speaker enumerated priority legislation agreed upon with their Senate counterparts during regular monthly dialogue.
These measures include: 1) Amendments of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Charter; 2) Rationalization of Fiscal Incentives; 3) Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act; 4) Customs Modernization and Tariff Act; and 5) Rationalization of Mining Revenues.
To promote competition and the growth of foreign direct investments, Belmonte underscored the need to pass Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 that vest on Congress the power to set (or adjust) restrictions on foreign ownership in key economic sectors, including public utilities, property, mass media and advertising, educational institutions and development of natural resources.
Likewise, on the long list are: a) Amendments to the Foreign Investment Act; b) Amendments to the Retail Trade Act; c) An Anti-trust and competition law; d) Amendments to the Build Operate Transfer Law; e) Amendments to the EPIRA; f) Amendments to the Cabotage Law that would allow foreign vessel to pick up, transport, and deliver shipments to and from local ports.
“Competition is good for our economy and our people,” Belmonte stressed, adding that a competitive marketplace for the exchange of goods and services benefits the consumers through lower prices, quality service, and better quality consumer information.
Reminding everyone that peace and order is indispensable to development, the Speaker stressed the need to pass the Freedom of Information Act, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Sandiganbayan Act, the Witness Protection Act and the Whistleblowers’ Act.
During the meeting, Belmonte noted that the business leaders’ legislative ‘wish list’ were almost the same with that of Congress as he predicted a “busy but fruitful first quarter of 2015.”
“I do not think that we are here to argue or preach to one another, but to map out directions and strengthen our collaboration for the passage of legislations that would uplift the lives of our people,” Belmonte said.