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Will foreign investment bring growth to the Philippines? Constitutional changes raise concerns over local interests, inflation

The Philippine senate’s move to discuss easing constitutional limits on foreign investment has raised concerns it would come at the cost of local industries, with critics highlighting similar efforts by neighbouring economies in the past did not lead to inclusive growth.

The Resolution of Both Houses (RBH 6) is focused on removing the 40 per cent restriction on foreign ownership of public utilities, educational institutions and the advertising industry. The rules were embedded in the constitution after President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr’s father was ousted.

Proponents of the move include House Speaker Martin Romualdez, the cousin of Marcos Jnr, who described it as a “crucial step towards unlocking the nation’s full potential”. Former finance secretary Margarito Teves argued the Philippines was the “only Asean country where restrictions are embodied in the constitution” and moving the constraints would “generate higher-paying jobs, boost income, create greater opportunities and more inclusive growth”.

However, analysts and some lawmakers have poured cold water on the optimism of growth by drawing comparisons with the historical development of neighbouring economies.

Economist Sonny Africa, the head of think tank Ibon Foundation, pointed out that the Philippines already had one of the most liberalised economies in Asia. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have caps on foreign ownership, ranging from around 20-80 per cent in some or all of the industrial sectors, he noted.

At the end of last year, foreign investments comprised 61 per cent of all approved investments in the Philippines, representing a whopping 455 per cent spike to around 767 billion pesos (US$13.7 billion) compared with the figures in 2022.

Trade Undersecretary