Business groups to PNoy: Don't let up on reforms

Posted at 07/30/14 1:05 PM

President Aquino (center) delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) during the joint session of the 16th Congress at the House of Representatives in Quezon City Monday while Senate President Franklin Drilon (top left) and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. listen. Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

MANILA, Philippines - Local and foreign business groups urged President Benigno Aquino not to let up on key business and policy initiatives to maintain the economy's growth momentum.

"The business community reiterates the appeal... that the Supreme Court ruling on certain actions under the Disbursement Acceleration Program must not be allowed to weaken the determination of your administration to aggressively pursue its key reform programs in the next two years," the Philippine Business Groups and the Joint Foreign Chambers (PBG-JFC) said in a letter to Aquino.

The Supreme Court earlier declared partly illegal the P145 billion DAP, which was created in 2011 from budget savings. There are concerns the controversy is distracting the Aquino administration, as well as slowing down government spending.

The PBG-JFC, which comprise of 18 business organizations, outlined key issues and proposed measures that they said the Aquino administration should tackle in order to achieve inclusive growth.

"Through these measures, the PBG-JFC is firmly convinced that the Philippines will continue to be among Asia's trailblazers and, at the same time, ensure that the gains from good governance and a flourishing economy will benefit the majority of our people with the greatest of needs," they said.

The PBG-JFC reiterated its position for a multi-airport system, which means the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Clark International Airport and a future third airport will serve the country's aviation requirements.

"We strongly believe that we should continue to enhance the advantages given by an international gateway in close proximity to the National Capital Region, while complementing this with further improvements in the capacity of Clark International Airport," it said.

Amid the pork barrel scandal, the PBG-JFC also pushed for the continuation of the President's campaign for good governance.

"It is imperative that public officials, both past and present, who are proven to have been involved in the misuse of public funds be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law at the soonest time and without fear or favor. Despite your administration's best efforts to safeguard the allocation and use of public funds, recent developments demonstrate that corruption still rears its ugly head in the hidden nooks and crannies of the bureaucracy and government transactions," the groups said.

Senators Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla are facing graft and plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan for allegedly funneling millions of pesos of their Priority Development Assistance Funds to bogus NGOs of Janet Lim Napoles. Napoles is said to be the mastermind behind the so-called pork barrel scam.

At the same time, the PBG-JFC called for the retention of the existing Philippine Mining Act, noting it should be properly implemented.

"We should ensure that we have an internationally competitive fiscal regime for mining, which gives the government a fair share of net mining revenues, as well as ensures an equitable and reasonable return for investors. Furthermore, in deciding on the mapping of 'no-go' zones, we reemphasize our position that the value of potential mineral projects should be balanced and weighed against agricultural, tourism, and other considerations," they said.

Also, the business groups said they are against opening up the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) to amendments, since this "will result in an unstable regulatory framework." They said this may also cause the deferment or cancellation of pending and much-needed investments in the power sector.

"It is our common position that what is needed is the full and proper implementation of EPIRA," they added.

To boost the entry of foreign investments in the country, the PBG-JFC encouraged the government to consider proposals to open certain areas of the economy to greater foreign participation.

"Pending any amendments to the Constitution, we suggest an initial and immediate course of action: to revise the Foreign Investment Negative List by reducing the list of industries where foreign participation is limited. Relevant legislation should be introduced in the near future for this purpose," they said.

The business groups also reiterated their proposal to have high-level government representatives "continuously engage with the private sector in a joint effort to address smuggling.";