Businesses look forward to gov't relaxing foreign ownership rules

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — As another year begins, the business community is hopeful for a fresh start of a crucial reform: the review of foreign ownership restrictions in the country.

President Rodrigo Duterte has said he's keen to scrap the limits on foreign ownership. This will be included in the proposed amendments to the Constitution, which he anticipates will be completed during his term.

Until today, foreigners are allowed a maximum of 40 percent ownership when it comes to:

  • Owning land and condominium units
  • Operating public utilities
  • Operating infrastructure
  • Tapping natural resources
  • Producing rice and corn

The rules get even stricter. Absolutely no foreign ownership is allowed in:

  • Mass media
  • Cooperatives
  • Small-scale mining
  • Fireworks
  • Cockpits

Professions like pharmacy, criminology, forestry and law don't accept foreigners either.

Business leaders say, this closes up the Philippines to much-needed foreign investment.

There's a lot of interest in investing in the country today - but they end up going to other markets like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos because of the barriers here.

"Vietnam attracts a lot of foreign investments because they're a lot more free with owning land, being able to have more than 40% equity in strategic industries,” said Economist Bernie Villegas.

The previous Aquino administration has loosened some rules by allowing foreigners into banks and investment houses.

But foreign ownership remains a touchy issue as Filipinos fear they will lose out. But for Rene Almendras - a former Cabinet Secretary and now head of an infrastructure firm - there will always be a place for locals.

"What our experience is with foreign partners is they would also like to have local partners... A local partner who will guide us and tune us to the local realities," he said.

CNN Philippines asked Filipinos what they think of the debate, and the popular sentiment seems to be shifting.

"For me, it's a good thing naman. Kasi [Because] there's more opportunities for us, like giving us more opportunities for jobs," said PJ Garcia.

"Depende po yan kung makakatulong sa ekonomiya natin, pwede po... Pero para sakin ayoko ko sa China, yun lang," siad Judith Ganar.

[Translation: It depends. If it can help the economy, then so be it. But for me, I don't like China; that's all.]

"It's already the 21st century and globalization is a trend in our country. So I think there's nothing wrong with that. We have to keep up with a fast-changing world,” said Karen Letin.

The Philippines has always lagged behind the region in terms of foreign investments.

In 2015, it took only five percent of the money that went into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.