By Elijah Felice Rosales, March 21 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

Removing the constitutional restriction on foreign ownership sans a strong regulatory framework on competition and law enforcement could be “disastrous” to the economy, senatorial aspirants from the minority bloc have argued.

Human-rights lawyer and law dean Jose Manuel “Chel” I. Diokno said the government has to do two things first before even considering fully liberalizing the economy. He recommended strengthening the competition law and regulatory agencies before tinkering with the economic provisions of the Constitution.

“[Also], we have to have really operational enforcement mechanisms. The justice system, [as well as] the regulatory mechanisms, has to be in place, and they have to be working the way they are supposed to work,” Diokno told reporters in a recent business forum in Makati.

He said removing the foreign ownership cap under the Constitution without a strong legal and regulatory system could “create a lot of havoc for the country.”

“If we open these economic restrictions now and we don’t have a level playing field, it can create a lot of havoc for the country. Unless we can address that, I would not even be open to considering opening up these economic restrictions,” Diokno explained.

Women’s rights advocate and senatorial candidate Samira Gutoc said she is amenable to revising the economic provisions of the Constitution for as long as national security interests are protected.

“I am open to studying what industries need to be opened up because we might be lacking investments now. However, if we do it as a whole, that is terrifying,” she pointed out.

Gutoc argued foreign ownership restrictions must be maintained on industries sensitive to national security, in particular telecommunications, mass media and defense.

“Not those three that have an impact on national security. We also have to put emphasis on the data-privacy issue liberalizing these sectors could bring,” she added.

The business sector has long been calling on the government to amend the Constitution and lift or relax the provision on foreign ownership restriction to allow more offshore investments to enter the Philippines. Under Article 12, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, foreign investors are allowed to own up to only 40 percent in operation of a public utility and corporations or associations.