Belmonte: Much remains to be done to sustain PHL growth 

While the Philippines has emerged as one of the best- performing economies in Asia and the world in recent years, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Friday said much remains to be done to continue and accelerate economic growth.

“We need to sustain our economic growth, or grow faster, to create more and better jobs for our people,” Belmonte said, adding that unemployment and underemployment needs to be addressed by the government annually.

He said the government should craft a common agenda for policy reforms to maximize the inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI) to propel inclusive and sustained growth.

Citing statistics, Belmonte noted that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.8 percent in 2012, and 7.2 percent in 2013, notwithstanding the weak global economy and the havoc wrought by the series of calamities that hit the country.

In terms of wealth and income levels, however, he said the country continues to lag behind, noting that, as of 2013, Philippine GDP per capita was only $2,587, compared to Indonesia’s $3,475; Thailand’s $5,779; and Malaysia’s $10,514.

“Clearly, we need more [direct] investments and business activities to absorb our growing labor force,” he stressed.

Because of the “improved macroeconomic fundamentals,” Belmonte said that, “for the first time, the Philippines got an investment-grade credit rating from all major rating agencies,” which translates to lower cost of credit and capital that augurs well for investments.

To further ensure sound monetary and fiscal management and policies adopted by the government, the speaker enumerated priority legislation agreed upon with their Senate counterparts during regular monthly dialogue.

These measures include, Amendments of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Charter, Rationalization of Fiscal Incentives, Tax Incentives Management and Transparency Act, Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, and the Rationalization of Mining Revenues.

To promote competition and the growth of FDI, Belmonte underscored the need to pass Resolution of Both Houses 1 that vest on Congress the power to set (or adjust) restrictions on foreign ownership in key economic sectors, including public utilities, property, mass media and advertising, educational institutions and development of natural resources.

Likewise, on the long list are: Amendments to the Foreign Investment Act, Amendments to the Retail Trade Act, An Anti-trust and competition law, Amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer law, Amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act,  Amendments to the Cabotage law that would allow foreign vessel to pick up, transport and deliver shipments to and from local ports.

“Competition is good for our economy and our people,” Belmonte stressed, adding that a competitive marketplace for the exchange of goods and services benefits the consumers through lower prices, quality service and better-quality consumer information.

Reminding everyone that peace and order is indispensable to development, Belmonte stressed the need to pass the Freedom of Information Act, the proposed Bangsamoro basic law, the Sandiganbayan Act, the Witness Protection Act and the Whistleblowers’ Act.

During the meeting, Belmonte noted that the business leaders’ legislative ‘wish-list’ were almost the same with that of Congress as he predicted a “busy but fruitful first quarter of 2015.”