Industry stakeholders, local business groups and foreign chambers in the country have revived their push for key reforms, as President Aquino enters the final stretch of his six-year term.
In a joint letter sent to President Aquino, 18 trade groups advocated a wide range of policy initiatives—from sustaining the good-governance initiative to reforms aimed at increasing foreign direct investments in the country.
The groups’ letter was dated July 21, or days ahead of Mr. Aquino’s fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona).
They include the Makati Business Club, the Semiconductors and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc., Employers Confederation of the Philippines, Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines, Management Association of the Philippines, Alyansa Agrikultura, Philippine Exporters Confederation, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, American Chamber of Commerce, Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, European Chamber of Commerce, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, Korean Chamber of Commerce and the Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters Inc.
According to the groups, in view of the Philippines hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting next year, the administration still has several months this year to “cement” its reform agenda.
To institutionalize good governance, the groups are pushing for both past and present officials that have been proven to have engaged in misuse of public funds to be held accountable; and, more important, for the Freedom of Information bill to be passed before the end of Mr. Aquino’s term in 2016.
The groups also reiterated their call for the issuance of an executive order that will institutionalize a method by which the public and private sectors can cooperate in clamping down on corruption. Thus, the groups suggested that government agencies, following the example of the Department of Public Works and Highways, should force companies that will engage in bidding for government contracts to sign the Integrity Pledge. In terms of achieving inclusive growth, which has not translated to addressing rising unemployment thus far, the groups said there should be a focus on sustainable agriculture and responsible mining.
The groups said since a third of the population is employed in the agriculture sector, there is a need to implement and formulate road maps for specific subsectors of agriculture, replicating the move of the Department of Trade and Industry to initiate road mapping for industries. The road map should be complemented with investments to increase agricultural productivity, the groups said.
On responsible mining, the groups are backing the retention of the existing Philippine Mining Act as future foreign investments are hinged, not on changing the legislation, but on proper implementation. To complement this law, a competitive fiscal regime for mining must be crafted as well that will balance government revenues from mining activities with equitable and reasonable return for investors. Notably, the groups are of the position that in determining the “no-go” zones, the potential mineral projects should be balanced against agricultural and tourist concerns, among others.
For infrastructure development, the group reiterates its push for a multiairport system, particularly the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Clark and a future third airport, to serve the country’s current and prospective aviation requirements.
Similarly the groups want the construction of the North Luzon Expressway-South Luzon Expressway Connector road expedited. There should also be a feeder road to connect it to the Port of Manila.
Shifting cargo traffic from the Manila port to the ports of Subic and Batangas is also part of the group’s call in the area of infrastructure.
For energy, the 18 groups are reiterating their former appeal to ensure proper implementation of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) rather than opening the law to amendments, saying this will create an unstable regulatory environment and may drive away investments in the sector.
Road maps for the energy sector are likewise being pushed to ensure power security and electricity price competitiveness.
The groups are also calling on the government to augment the staff of the existing agencies of the Department of Energy and Energy Regulatory Commission.
To increase foreign investments into the country, the groups are pushing for the government to open areas of the economy to greater foreign participation and, pending any amendment to the Constitution, to revise the Foreign Investment Negative List by reducing the list of industries where foreign participation is limited. This should be accompanied by relevant legislation.
On smuggling, the groups are hoping for the swift passage of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act and various measures to combat smuggling that are currently pending in Congress.
To have a more focused discussion on smuggling, the groups are renewing their proposal for a Cabinet-level oversight committee with private sector representation to jointly tackle the dilemma.
On the Disbursement Acceleration Program of the President, which has gone under much scrutiny for the better part of 2013 since the revelation of the relatively unknown program of the Department of Budget and Management, the groups said the said issue must not undermine the will of the administration to undertake more reforms for the remainder of the Chief Executive’s term.