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Business groups press Congress to pass key economic reform bills

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PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

LOCAL BUSINESS GROUPS and foreign chambers once again pressed the outgoing 18th Congress to pass the last set of economic reform bills in its remaining session days.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, thirteen business groups and foreign chambers said they sent letters to Congress leaders to urge them to pass six measures that have been approved at the House of Representatives, and are still pending at the Senate.

“(We are) calling on Congress to pass additional achievable reforms in the remaining session days of the 18th Congress,” they said.

The 18th Congress will resume session on May 23, before its sine die adjournment on June 3.

The business groups’ list of key measures includes last two packages of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program that is being pushed by the Duterte administration. Package 3 is the Property Valuation and Assessment Reform, while Package 4 is the Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation, which seeks to simplify the taxation of passive income and financial instruments.

Other measures include the Ease of Paying Taxes bill, which aims to simplify and modernize tax compliance; Open Access in Data Transmission, which hopes to promote fair and open competition by lowering barriers to entry for the telecommunications industry; the Philippine Creative Industries Development Act, which would provide support for the creative sector; and the Promotion of Digital Payments Act.

Based on the Senate website, the Open Access in Data Transmission bill and the Promotion of Digital Payments are pending in the committee level while the Philippine Creative Industries bill is being consolidated in the committee.

Foreign chambers and business groups said they are also looking forward to the ratification of the reconciled version of the Philippine Transportation Safety Board Creation and the Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing System Act.

The Bicameral Conference Committee is currently deliberating on these two measures.

The business groups said they “strongly encourage” the Senate to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement.

The Philippines is unable to participate in the key regional trade deal as the Senate has yet to give its concurrence on the RCEP.

RCEP, which entered into force on Jan. 1, is a trade agreement that involves countries such as Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is touted as the world’s biggest trade deal as the trade deal represents 30% of the global gross domestic product.    

Sought for comment, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a Viber message it is not possible to pass these bills given the tight schedule.

“In six session days including the national canvass? Unless any of those bills are in the advance stage, not possible,” Mr. Sotto said.

The 19th Congress will open its first regular session on July 25.

The signatories to the joint statement include the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines; Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines; Bankers Association of the Philippines; Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines; European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines; Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines; IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines; Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, Inc.; Korean Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc.; Makati Business Club; Management Association of the Philippines; Philippine Association of Multinational Companies Regional Headquarters, Inc.; and Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Foundation, Inc. — R.M.D. Ochave

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