Senators in oligarchs’ pockets a serious roadblock to reforms needed to attract more foreign investment

Filipino last?” Boo Chanco poses the question in his PhilSTAR piece of the same title today and answers in the end, “Our Filipino First policy only made Filipinos last. That’s the awful truth.” It never ceases to amaze me how Chanco can easily flip-flop on policy now that he beats the drum on openness to foreign investment challenging us with the question, “why should we be afraid of foreign investments?” No to charter change, Mr. Chanco? But then, in effect, what is happening now is charter change if the proposed amendments to the Public Service Act (PSA) are passed.

Chanco writes:

By allowing Japanese, Korean and other foreign players in, we may be able to diversify our sources of equipment as well. This is important because eventually under the US CLEAN program, our telcos won’t be allowed into the US financial system using Huawei equipment. That cuts us from the US banking system.

In the proposed PSA, a blanket ban on all foreign ownership of telcos being contemplated by some senators will leave us with three telcos dependent on Huawei equipment. We run the risk of our telcos‘ technology getting obsolete as Huawei is denied advanced US technology.

Passing the PSA bill is the first step to create a favorable investment environment here for foreign investors.

Then again, consider too that the main reason why we haven’t been as progressive as our ASEAN neighbors is power cost, labor cost, lack of infrastructure, red tape, corruption and ownership. Other countries also have their own negative lists but this is constantly reviewed. In our case, the oligarchs are protected by the politicians they have in their pockets. Inquirer columnist and fomer Communications Undersecretary Manuel L Quezon III (MLQ3) constantly rails about political parties functioning as corporate subsidiaries but doesn’t admit that the Liberal Party (LP) is guilty of the same practice. We have missed the foreign investment bus consistently because our industries are firmly in the hands of oligarchs. Even with the ownership restrictions, former Ambassador Bobi Tiglao has exposed how SingTel and First Pacific have gone around the constitutional ban and in effect, control the majority shares of both Globe Telecom and PLDT. Should we continue to uphold the myth and look like fools in the process?

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The House of Representatives has been busy rushing through these amendments before the election campaign begins but the Senate is, again, the stumbling block. The upper chamber has been reduced to nothing more than an obstruction at present. You can’t blame them. It’s an election year and the Senators need campaign funds for their re-election bids. The pandemic has disrupted the economy and tipped it into recession. We cannot afford to have obstructionist Senators who will do the bidding of their political patrons and not the public whom they have sworn to serve. Members of the economic cluster of the Cabinet have been doing their job. The initial apprehension after President Rodrigo Duterte’s win in 2016 was that the economy would be at risk because of his lack of knowledge and experience. Carlos Dominguez was reluctant to join the Cabinet at first but he has done an excellent job even if he is the Finance Secretary with the least accolades won. That doesn’t matter anyway because it’s an open secret that those can be bought.

We also need to amend the political structure in order to have consistency of policy and seeing projects through. Investors are wary because they only have a six-year window with each administration. On the fifth year, they have to send out feelers to whoever may be the successor which makes for an unstable environment. This is why charter change is imperative for economic recovery after the pandemic. The disruption is such that other countries have made it even easier for foreign investors to come one while we are still stuck in a rut.

We need to take advantage of this election cycle to elect lawmakers who share the same vision and will not be as beholden to their political patrons unlike the present crop we have who continue to maintain the status quo for their real masters. This also why there is a need for a genuine opposition which will be constructive and function as true fiscalizers to replace the present one who are obstructionist and destabilizing by nature. The pandemic should open our eyes to these realities and we should bear this in mind when we go out and vote on May 2022.

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