Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines is committed to improving its overall investment climate. Sovereign credit ratings remain at investment grade based on the country’s sound macroeconomic fundamentals. Foreign direct investment (FDI), however, still remains relatively low when compared to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) figures; the Philippines ranks sixth out of ten ASEAN countries for total FDI in 2020. FDI declined by almost 25 percent in 2020 to USD 6.5 billion from USD 8.7 billion in 2019, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (the Philippine’s Central Bank), mainly due to the disruptive impact of the pandemic on global supply chains and weak business outlook that affected investors’ decisions. The majority of FDI investments included manufacturing, real estate, and financial/insurance activities. (https://www.bsp.gov.ph/SitePages/MediaAndResearch/MediaDisp.aspx?ItemId=5704)
Foreign ownership limitations in many sectors of the economy constrain investments. Poor infrastructure, high power costs, slow broadband connections, regulatory inconsistencies, and corruption are major disincentives to investment. The Philippines’ complex, slow, and sometimes corrupt judicial system inhibits the timely and fair resolution of commercial disputes. Traffic in major cities and congestion in the ports remain a regular cost of business. Recently passed tax reform legislation (Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises — CREATE) will reduce the corporate income tax from ASEAN’s highest rate of 30 percent to 25 percent in 2020 and eventually to 20 percent by 2025. CREATE could be positive for business investment, although some foreign investors have concerns about the performance-based and time-bound nature of the incentives scheme adopted in the measure.
The Philippines continues to address investment constraints. In late 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte updated the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which enumerates investment areas where foreign ownership or investment is banned or limited. The latest FINL allows 40 percent foreign participation in construction and repair of locally funded public works, up from 25 percent. The FINL, however, is limited in scope since it cannot change prior laws relating to foreign investments, such as Constitutional provisions which bar investment in mass media, utilities, and natural resource extraction.
There are currently several pending pieces of legislation, such as amendments to the Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Foreign Investment Act, all of which would have a large impact on investment within the country. The Public Service Act would provide a clearer definition of “public utility” companies, in which foreign investment is limited to 40 percent according to the 1987 Constitution. This amendment would lift foreign ownership restrictions in key areas such as telecommunications and energy, leaving restrictions only on distribution and transmission of electricity, and maintenance of waterworks and sewerage systems. The Retail Trade Liberalization Act aims to boost foreign direct investment in the retail sector by changing capital thresholds to reduce the minimum investment per store requirement for foreign-owned retail trade businesses from USD 830,000 to USD 200,000. It also would reduce the quantity of locally manufactured products foreign-owned stores are required to carry. The Foreign Investment Act would ease restrictions on foreigners practicing their professions in the Philippines and give them better access to investment areas that are currently reserved primarily for Philippine nationals, particularly in sectors within education, technology, and retail.
While the Philippine bureaucracy can be slow and opaque in its processes, the business environment is notably better within the special economic zones, particularly those available for export businesses operated by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), known for its regulatory transparency, no red-tape policy, and one-stop shop services for investors. Finally, the Philippines plans to spend more than USD 82.6 billion through 2022 to upgrade its infrastructure with the Administration’s aggressive Build, Build, Build program; many projects are already underway.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Philippines seeks foreign investment to generate employment, promote economic development, and contribute to inclusive and sustained growth. The Board of Investments (BOI) and Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) are the country’s lead investment promotion agencies (IPAs). They provide incentives and special investment packages to investors. Noteworthy advantages of the Philippine investment landscape include free trade zones, including economic zones, and a large, educated, English-speaking, and relatively low-cost Filipino workforce. Philippine law treats foreign investors the same as their domestic counterparts, except in sectors reserved for Filipinos by the Philippine Constitution and the Foreign Investment Act (see details under Limits on Foreign Control section). Additional information regarding investment policies and incentives are available on the BOI (http://boi.gov.ph) and PEZA (http://www.peza.gov.ph) websites.
Restrictions on foreign ownership, inadequate public investment in infrastructure, and lack of transparency in procurement tenders hinder foreign investment. The Philippines’ regulatory regime remains ambiguous in many sectors of the economy, and corruption is a significant problem. Large, family-owned conglomerates, including San Miguel, Ayala, Aboitiz Equity Ventures, and SM Investments, dominate the economic landscape, crowding out other smaller businesses.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreigners are prohibited from fully owning land under the 1987 Constitution, although the 1993 Investors’ Lease Act allows foreign investors to lease a contiguous parcel of up to 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) for a maximum of 75 years. Dual citizens are permitted to own land.
The 1991 Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing every two years of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL), which outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted. The latest FINL was released in October 2018 and will be updated once the Strategic Investment Priorities Plan (SIPP) is drafted. The FINL bans foreign ownership/participation in the following investment activities: mass media (except recording and internet businesses); small-scale mining; private security agencies; utilization of marine resources; cockpits; manufacturing of firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices; and manufacturing and distribution of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons, and anti-personnel mines. With the exception of the practices of law, radiologic and x-ray technology, and marine deck and marine engine officers, other laws and regulations on professions allow foreigners to practice in the Philippines if their country permits reciprocity for Philippine citizens, these include medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, accountancy, architecture, engineering, criminology, teaching, chemistry, environmental planning, geology, forestry, interior design, landscape architecture, and customs brokerage. In practice, however, language exams, onerous registration processes, and other barriers prevent this from taking place.
The Philippines limits foreign ownership to 40 percent in the manufacturing of explosives, firearms, and military hardware; private radio communication networks; natural resource exploration, development, and utilization (with exceptions); educational institutions (with some exceptions); operation and management of public utilities; operation of commercial deep sea fishing vessels; Philippine government procurement contracts (40 percent for supply of goods and commodities); contracts for the construction and repair of locally funded public works (with some exceptions); ownership of private lands; and rice and corn production and processing (with some exceptions). Other areas that carry varying foreign ownership ceilings include the following: private employee recruitment firms (25 percent) and advertising agencies (30 percent).
Retail trade enterprises with capital of less than USD 2.5 million, or less than USD 250,000, for retailers of luxury goods, are reserved for Filipinos. The Philippines allows up to full foreign ownership of insurance adjustment, lending, financing, or investment companies; however, foreign investors are prohibited from owning stock in such enterprises, unless the investor’s home country affords the same reciprocal rights to Filipino investors.
Foreign banks are allowed to establish branches or own up to 100 percent of the voting stock of locally incorporated subsidiaries if they can meet certain requirements. However, a foreign bank cannot open more than six branches in the Philippines. A minimum of 60 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking system should, at all times, remain controlled by majority Philippine-owned banks. Ownership caps apply to foreign non-bank investors, whose aggregate share should not exceed 40 percent of the total voting stock in a domestic commercial bank and 60 percent of the voting stock in a thrift/rural bank.
Business registration in the Philippines is cumbersome due to multiple agencies involved in the process. It takes an average of 33 days to start a business in Quezon City in Metro Manila, according to the 2020 World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report. The Duterte Administrations’ landmark law, Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018 sought to address the issues through the amendment of the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2018/05/28/republic-act-no-11032/). It legislates standardized deadlines for government transactions, a single business application form, a one-stop-shop, automation of business permits processing, a zero-contact policy, and a central business databank. Implementing rules and regulations for the Act was signed in 2019 (http://arta.gov.ph/pages/IRR.html). It created an Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) under the Office of the President that oversees national policy on anti-red tape issues and implements reforms to improve competitiveness rankings. It also monitors compliance of agencies and issue notices to erring and non-compliant government employees and officials. ARTA is governed by a council that includes the Secretaries of Trade and Industry, Finance, Interior and Local Governments, and Information and Communications Technology. The Department of Trade and Industry serves as interim Secretariat for ARTA. Since this landmark legislation, the Philippines jumped 29 notches in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranking 95th from its previous 124th rank with the ARTA pushing for the full adoption of an online application system as an efficient alternative to on-site application procedures, issue online permits, and use e-signatures in the processing of government transactions.
The Revised Corporation Code, a business-friendly amendment that encourages entrepreneurship, improves the ease of business and promotes good corporate governance. This new law amends part of the four-decade-old Corporation Code and allows for existing and future companies to hold a perpetual status of incorporation, compared to the previous 50-year term limit which required renewal. More importantly, the amendments allow for the formation of one-person corporations, providing more flexibility to conduct business; the old code required all incorporation to have at least five stockholders and provided less protection from liabilities.
There are no restrictions on outward portfolio investments for Philippine residents, defined to include non-Filipino citizens who have been residing in the country for at least one year; foreign-controlled entities organized under Philippine laws; and branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates of foreign enterprises organized under foreign laws operating in the country. However, outward investments funded by foreign exchange purchases above USD 60 million or its equivalent per investor per year, require prior notification to the Central Bank.
2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties
The Philippines has neither a bilateral investment nor a free trade agreement with the United States, but it utilizes the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP – https://ustr.gov/issue-areas/trade-development/preference-programs/generalized-system-preference-gsp), which is yet to be renewed. The only bilateral free trade agreement the Philippines has is with Japan. The Philippines has signed bilateral investment agreements with 37 countries or entities: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kuwait, Mongolia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.
The Philippines is party to ASEAN regional trade agreements, including an investment chapter with trading partners Australia and New Zealand, Republic of Korea, India, Japan, and China. It also has an investment agreement with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland under the Philippines-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Free Trade Agreement. On November 15, the Philippines along with 14 other Asia-Pacific countries, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement. The agreement will be implemented after a ratification process, which could take up to two years.
The Philippines has a tax treaty with United States to avoid double taxation and provide procedures for resolving interpretative disputes and tax enforcement in both countries. The treaty encourages bilateral trade and investment by allowing the exchange of capital, goods, and services under clearly defined tax rules and, in some cases, preferential tax rates or tax exemptions.
U.S. recipients of royalty income qualify for preferential tax rates (currently 10 percent) under the most favored nation clause of the United States-Philippines tax treaty. A preferential tax treaty rate of 15 percent applies to dividends and interest income from bona fide loans; and 10 percent on interest income from government bonds. The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that securing a tax treaty relief ruling from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is not a legal requirement to qualify for preferential treatment and tax treaty rates; however, based on experience, tax experts generally still advise filing a tax treaty relief application to avoid potential challenges or controversies. Despite efforts to streamline processes, taxpayers find documentation requirements for tax treaty relief applications burdensome. The volume of tax treaty relief applications has resulted in processing delays, with most applications reportedly pending for over a year. Inconsistent taxation rulings are also a concern.
Given the recent updates on tax rulings, the BIR rules and regulations for tax accounting are yet to be fully harmonized with the Philippine Financial Reporting Standards. The BIR requires taxpayers to maintain records in case of further audits of financial statements and income tax returns. Additional information regarding BIR regulations is available on the BIR website (https://www.bir.gov.ph/).
The Philippines and United States signed a reciprocal Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) in July 2015 for automatic exchange of information between tax authorities to implement the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA). The bilateral agreement has yet to enter into force pending completion of domestic legal remedies to overcome stringent bank secrecy restrictions to the disclosure/sharing of information.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Proposed Philippine laws must undergo public comment and review. Government agencies are required to craft implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) through public consultation meetings within the government and with private sector representatives after laws are passed. New regulations must be published in newspapers or in the government’s official gazette, available online, before taking effect (https://www.gov.ph/). The 2016 Executive Order on Freedom of Information (FOI) mandates full public disclosure and transparency of government operations, with certain exceptions. The public may request copies of official records through the FOI website (https://www.foi.gov.ph/). Government offices in the Executive Branch are expected to come up with their respective agencies’ implementation guidelines. The order is criticized for its long list of exceptions, rendering the policy less effective.
Stakeholders report regulatory enforcement in the Philippines is generally weak, inconsistent, and unpredictable. Many U.S. investors describe business registration, customs, immigration, and visa procedures as burdensome and frustrating. Regulatory agencies are generally not statutorily independent but are attached to cabinet departments or the Office of the President and, therefore, are subject to political pressure. Issues in the judicial system also affect regulatory enforcement.
The Philippines continues to fulfill required regulatory reforms under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The Philippines officially joined live operations of the ASEAN Single Window (ASW) on December 30, 2019. The country’s National Single Window (NSW) now issues an electronic Certificate of Origin via the TRADENET.gov.ph platform, and the NSW is connected to the ASW, allowing for customs efficiencies and better transparency.
The Philippines passed the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act in 2016, which enables the country to largely comply with the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation. However, the various implementing rules and regulations to execute specific provisions have not been completed by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs as of April 2020.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Philippines has a mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic, and customary laws, along with commercial and contractual laws.
The Philippine judicial system is a separate and largely independent branch of the government, made up of the Supreme Court and lower courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court and sole constitutional body. More information is available on the court’s website (http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/). The lower courts consist of: (a) trial courts with limited jurisdictions (i.e., Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, etc.); (b) Regional Trial Courts (RTCs); (c) Shari’ah District Courts (Muslim courts); and (d) Court of Appeals (appellate courts). Special courts include the “Sandiganbayan” (anti-graft court for public officials) and the Court of Tax Appeals. Several RTCs have been designated as Special Commercial Courts (SCC) to hear intellectual property (IP) cases, with four SCCs authorized to issue writs of search and seizure on IP violations, enforceable nationwide. In addition, nearly any case can be appealed to appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, increasing caseloads and further clogging the judicial system.
Foreign investors describe the inefficiency and uncertainty of the judicial system as a significant disincentive to investment. Many investors decline to file dispute cases in court because of slow and complex litigation processes and corruption among some personnel. The courts are not considered impartial or fair. Stakeholders also report an inexperienced judiciary when confronted with complex issues such as technology, science, and intellectual property cases. The Philippines ranked 152nd out of 190 economies, and 18th among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of enforcing contracts.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Fiscal Incentives Review Board (FIRB) is the ultimate governing body that oversees the administration and grant of tax incentives by investments promotions agencies (IPAs). It also determines the target performance metrics used as conditions to avail of tax incentives and reviews, approve, and cancels incentives for investments above USD 20 million as endorsed by IPAs. The BOI regulates and promotes investment into the Philippines that caters to the domestic market. The Strategic Investment Priorities Plan (SIPP), identified by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and administered by the BOI, identifies preferred economic activities approved by the President. Government agencies are encouraged to adopt policies and implement programs consistent with the SIPP.
The Foreign Investment Act (FIA) requires the publishing of the Foreign Investment Negative List (FINL) that outlines sectors in which foreign investment is restricted. The FINL consists of two parts: Part A details sectors in which foreign equity participation is restricted by the Philippine Constitution or laws; and Part B lists areas in which foreign ownership is limited for reasons of national security, defense, public health, morals, and/or the protection of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
The 1995 Special Economic Zone Act allows PEZAs to regulate and promote investments in export-oriented manufacturing and service facilities inside special economic zones, including grants of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.
Further information about investing in the Philippines is available at BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/) and PEZA website (http://www.peza.gov.ph).
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The 2015 Philippine competition law established the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), an independent body mandated to resolve complaints on issues such as price fixing and bid rigging, to stop mergers that would restrict competition. More information is available on PCC website (http://phcc.gov.ph/#content). The Department of Justice (https://www.doj.gov.ph/) prosecutes criminal offenses involving violations of competition laws.
Expropriation and Compensation
Philippine law allows expropriation of private property for public use or in the interest of national welfare or defense in return for fair market value compensation. In the event of expropriation, foreign investors have the right to receive compensation in the currency in which the investment was originally made and to remit it at the equivalent exchange rate. However, the process of agreeing on a mutually acceptable price can be protracted in Philippine courts. No recent cases of expropriation involve U.S. companies in the Philippines.
The 2016 Right-of-Way Act facilitates acquisition of right-of-way sites for national government infrastructure projects and outlines procedures in providing “just compensation” to owners of expropriated real properties to expedite implementation of government infrastructure programs.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
The Philippines is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and has adopted the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, or the New York Convention.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The Philippines is signatory to various bilateral investment treaties that recognize international arbitration of investment disputes. Since 2002, the Philippines has been respondent to five investment dispute cases filed before the ICSID. Details of cases involving the Philippines are available on the ICSID website (https://icsid.worldbank.org/en/).
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Investment disputes can take years to resolve due to systemic problems in Philippine courts. Lack of resources, understaffing, and corruption make the already complex court processes protracted and expensive. Several laws on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms (i.e., arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and conciliation) were approved to decongest clogged court dockets. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) infrastructure contracts are required to include ADR provisions to make resolving disputes less expensive and time-consuming.
A separate action must be filed for foreign judgments to be recognized or enforced under Philippine law. Philippine law does not recognize or enforce foreign judgments that run counter to existing laws, particularly those relating to public order, public policy, and good customary practices. Foreign arbitral awards are enforceable upon application in writing to the regional trial court with jurisdiction. The petition may be filed any time after receipt of the award.
The 2010 Philippine bankruptcy and insolvency law provides a predictable framework for rehabilitation and liquidation of distressed companies, although an examination of some reported cases suggests uneven implementation. Rehabilitation may be initiated by debtors or creditors under court-supervised, pre-negotiated, or out-of-court proceedings. The law sets conditions for voluntary (debtor-initiated) and involuntary (creditor-initiated) liquidation. It also recognizes cross-border insolvency proceedings in accordance with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, allowing courts to recognize proceedings in a foreign jurisdiction involving a foreign entity with assets in the Philippines. Regional trial courts designated by the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over insolvency and bankruptcy cases. The Philippines ranked 65th out of 190 economies, and ninth among 25 economies from East Asia and the Pacific, in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report in terms of resolving insolvency and bankruptcy cases.
4. Industrial Policies
The Philippines’ Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) enumerates investment activities entitled to incentives facilitated by BOI, such as an income tax holiday. Non-fiscal incentives include the following: employment of foreign nationals, simplified customs procedures, duty exemption on imported capital equipment and spare parts, importation of consigned equipment, and operation of a bonded manufacturing warehouse.
The 2017 IPP provides incentives to the following activities: manufacturing (e.g., agro-processing, modular housing components, machinery, and equipment); agriculture, fishery, and forestry; integrated circuit design, creative industries, and knowledge-based services (e.g., IT-Business Process Management services for the domestic market, repair/maintenance of aircraft, telecommunications, etc.); healthcare (e.g., hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers); mass housing; infrastructure and logistics (e.g., airports, seaports, and PPP projects); energy (development of energy sources, power generation plants, and ancillary services); innovation drivers (e.g,. fabrication laboratories); and environment (e.g., climate change-related projects). Further details of the 2017 IPP are available on the BOI website (http://boi.gov.ph/). The BOI was tasked to update the investment priorities and formulate a Strategic Investment Priorities Plan to replace the IPP in light of the planned amendments in the tax incentive scheme of the Philippines under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CREATE).
In the current set-up, BOI-registered enterprises that locate in less-developed areas are entitled to pioneer incentives and can deduct 100 percent of the cost of necessary infrastructure work and labor expenses from taxable income. Pioneer status can be granted to enterprises producing new products or using new methods, goods deemed highly essential to the country’s agricultural self-sufficiency program, or goods utilizing non-conventional fuel sources. Furthermore, an enterprise with more than 40 percent foreign equity that exports at least 70 percent of its production may be entitled to incentives even if the activity is not listed in the IPP. Export-oriented firms with at least 50 percent of revenues derived from exports may register for additional incentives under the 1994 Export Development Act.
Multinational entities that establish regional warehouses for the supply of spare parts, manufactured components, or raw materials for foreign markets also enjoy incentives on imports that are re-exported, including exemption from customs duties, internal revenue taxes, and local taxes. The first package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law which took effect January 1, 2018, removed the 15 percent special tax rate on gross income of employees of multinational enterprises’ regional headquarters (RHQ) and regional operating headquarters (ROHQ) located in the Philippines. RHQ and ROHQ employees are now subjected to regular income tax rates, usually at higher and less competitive rates.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Export-related businesses enjoy preferential tax treatment when located in export processing zones, free trade zones, and certain industrial estates, collectively known as economic zones, or ecozones. Businesses located in ecozones are considered outside customs territory and are allowed to import capital equipment and raw material free of customs duties, taxes, and other import restrictions. Goods imported into ecozones may be stored, repacked, mixed, or otherwise manipulated without being subject to import duties and are exempt from the Bureau of Customs’ Selective Pre-shipment Advance Classification Scheme. While some ecozones are designated as both export processing zones and free trade zones, individual businesses within them are only permitted to receive incentives under a single category.
Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA)
PEZA operates 379 ecozones, primarily in manufacturing, IT, tourism, medical tourism, logistics/warehousing, and agro-industrial sectors. PEZA manages four government-owned export-processing zones (Mactan, Baguio, Cavite, and Pampanga) and administers incentives to enterprises in other privately owned and operated ecozones. Any person, partnership, corporation, or business organization, regardless of nationality, control and/or ownership, may register as an export, IT, tourism, medical tourism, or agro-industrial enterprise with PEZA, provided the enterprise physically locates its activity inside any of the ecozones. PEZA administrators have earned a reputation for maintaining a clear and predictable investment environment within the zones of their authority (http://www.peza.gov.ph/index.php/economic-zones/list-of-economic-zones/operating-economic-zones).
Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA)
The ecozones located inside former U.S. military bases were established under the 1992 Bases Conversion and Development Act. The BCDA (http://www.bcda.gov.ph/) operates Clark Freeport Zone (Angeles City, Pampanga), John Hay Special Economic Zone (Baguio), Poro Point Freeport Zone (La Union), and Bataan Technology Park (Morong, Bataan). The SBMA operates the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (Subic Bay, Zambales). Clark and Subic have their own international airports, power plants, telecommunications networks, housing complexes, and tourist facilities. These ecozones offer comparable incentives to PEZA. Enterprises already receiving incentives under the BCDA law are disqualified to receive incentives and benefits offered by other laws.
The Phividec Industrial Estate (Misamis Oriental Province, Mindanao) is governed by Phividec Industrial Authority (PIA) (http://www.piamo.gov.ph/), a government-owned and controlled corporation. Other ecozones are Zamboanga City Economic Zone and Freeport (Zamboanga City, Mindanao) (http://www.zfa.gov.ph/), Cagayan Special Economic Zone (CEZA) and Freeport (Santa Ana, Cagayan Province) (http://ceza.gov.ph/), and Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) (Mariveles, Bataan). CEZA grants gaming licenses in addition to offering export incentives. The Regional Economic Zone Authority (Cotabato City, Mindanao) (https://reza.bangsamoro.gov.ph/) has been operated by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The FAB is operated by the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB) (https://afab.gov.ph/). The incentives available to investors in these zones are similar to PEZA but administered independently.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The BOI imposes a higher export performance requirement on foreign-owned enterprises (70 percent of production) than on Philippine-owned companies (50 percent of production) when providing incentives under SIPP.
Companies registered with BOI and PEZA may employ foreign nationals in supervisory, technical, or advisory positions for five years from date of registration (possibly extendable upon request). Top positions and elective officers of majority foreign-owned BOI-registered enterprises (such as president, general manager, and treasurer, or their equivalents) are exempt from employment term limitation. Foreigners intending to work locally must secure an Alien Employment Permit from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), renewable every year with the duration of employment (which in no case shall exceed five years). The BOI and PEZA facilitate special investor’s resident visas with multiple entry privileges and extend visa facilitation assistance to foreign nationals, their spouses, and dependents.
The 2006 Biofuels Act establishes local content requirements for diesel and gasoline. Regarding diesel, only locally produced biodiesel is permitted. For gasoline, all local ethanol must be bought off the market before imports are allowed to meet the blend requirement, and the local ethanol production may only be sourced from locally-produced sugar/molasses feedstock.
The Philippines does not impose restrictions on cross-border data transfers. Sensitive personal information is protected under the 2012 Data Privacy Act, which provides penalties for unauthorized processing and improper disposal of data even if processed outside the Philippines.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Philippines recognizes and protects property rights, but the enforcement of laws is weak and fragmented. The Land Registration Authority and the Register of Deeds (http://www.lra.gov.ph/), which facilitate the registration and transfer of property titles, are responsible for land administration, with more information available on their websites. Property registration processes are tedious and costly. Multiple agencies are involved in property administration, which results in overlapping procedures for land valuation and titling processes. Record management is weak due to a lack of funds and trained personnel. Corruption is also prevalent among land administration personnel and the court system is slow to resolve land disputes. The Philippines ranked 120th out of 190 economies in terms of ease of property registration in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business report.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Philippines is not listed on the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Special 301 Watch List. The country has a generally robust intellectual property rights (IPR) regime in place, although enforcement is irregular and inconsistent. The total estimated value of counterfeit goods reported seized in 2020 was USD180 million, lower than 2019’s USD 460 million. The closure of commercial establishments and a strict three-month lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic,impacted enforcement activities. The sale of imported counterfeit goods in local markets has visibly decreased, though the amount of counterfeit goods sold online has dramatically increased due to the shift of most businesses to online activities.
The Intellectual Property (IP) Code provides a legal framework for IPR protection, particularly in key areas of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) is the implementing agency of the IP Code, with more information available on its website (https://www.ipophil.gov.ph/). The Philippines generally has strong patent and trademark laws. IPOPHL’s IP Enforcement Office (IEO) reviews IPR-related complaints and visits establishments reportedly engaged in IPR-related violations. However, weak border protection, corruption, limited enforcement capacity by the government, and lack of clear procedures continue to weaken enforcement. In addition, IP owners still must assume most enforcement and storage costs when counterfeit goods are seized.
Enforcement actions are often not followed by successful prosecutions. The slow and capricious judicial system keeps most IP owners from pursuing cases in court. IP infringement is not considered a major crime in the Philippines and takes a lower priority in court proceedings, especially as the courts become more crowded out with criminal cases deemed more serious, which receive higher priority. Many IP owners opt for out-of-court settlements (such as ADR) rather than filing a lawsuit that may take years to resolve in the unpredictable Philippine courts.
The IPOPHL has jurisdiction to resolve certain disputes concerning alleged infringement and licensing through its Arbitration and Mediation Center.
The Philippines welcomes the entry of foreign portfolio investments, including local and foreign-issued equities listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE). Investments in certain publicly listed companies are subject to foreign ownership restrictions specified in the Constitution and other laws. Non-residents are allowed to issue bonds/notes or similar instruments in the domestic market with prior approval from the Central Bank; in certain cases, they may also obtain financing in Philippine pesos from authorized agent banks without prior Central Bank approval.
Although growing, the PSE (with 271 listed firms as of end-2020) lags behind many of its neighbors in size, product offerings, and trading activity. Efforts are underway to deepen the equity market, including introduction of new instruments (e.g., real investment trusts) and plans to amend listing rules for small and medium enterprises (SME). The securities market is growing, and while it remains dominated by government bills and bonds, corporate issuances continue to expand due to the favorable interest rate environment and recent regulatory reforms. Hostile takeovers are uncommon because most companies’ shares are not publicly listed and controlling interest tends to remain with a small group of parties. Cross-ownership and interlocking directorates among listed companies also decrease the likelihood of hostile takeovers.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP/Central Bank) does not restrict payments and transfers for current international transactions in accordance to the country’s acceptance of International Monetary Fund Article VIII obligations of September 1995. Purchase of foreign currencies for trade and non-trade obligations and/or remittances requires submission of a foreign exchange purchase application form if the foreign exchange is sourced from banks and/or their subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations falls within specified thresholds (currently USD 500,000 for individuals and USD 1 million for corporates/other entities). Purchases above the thresholds are also subject to the submission of minimum documentary requirements but do not require prior Central Bank approval. Meanwhile, a person may freely bring in or carryout foreign currencies up to USD 10,000; more than this threshold requires submission of a foreign currency declaration form.
Credit is generally granted on market terms and foreign investors are able to obtain credit from the liquid domestic market. However, some laws require financial institutions to set aside loans for preferred sectors such as agriculture, agrarian reform, and MSMEs. Notwithstanding, bank loans to these sectors remain constrained; for example, lending to MSMEs only amount to 5.9 percent of the total banking system loans despite comprising 99 percent of domestic firms. The government has implemented measures to promote lending to preferred sectors at competitive rates, including the establishment of a centralized credit information system and enactment of the 2018 Personal Property Security Law allowing the use of non-traditional collaterals (e.g., movable assets like machinery and equipment and inventories). The government also established the Philippine Guarantee Corporation in 2018 to expand development financing by extending credit guarantees to priority sectors, including MSMEs.
Money and Banking System
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP/Central Bank) is a highly respected institution that oversees a stable banking system. The Central Bank has pursued regulatory reforms promoting good governance and aligning risk management regulations with international standards. Capital adequacy ratios are well above the eight percent international standard and the Central Bank’s 10 percent regulatory requirement. The non-performing loan ratio was at 3.7 percent as of end-2020, and there is ample liquidity in the system, with the liquid assets-to-deposits ratio estimated at about 53 percent. Commercial banks constitute more than 93 percent of the total assets of the Philippine banking industry. As of September 2020, the five largest commercial banks represented 60 percent of the total resources of the commercial banking sector. The banking system was liberalized in 2014, allowing the full control of domestic lenders by non-residents and lifting the limits to the number of foreign banks that can operate in the country, subject to central bank prudential regulations. Twenty-six of the 46 commercial banks operating in the country are foreign branches and subsidiaries, including three U.S. banks (Citibank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase). Citibank has the largest presence among the foreign bank branches and currently ranks 12th overall in terms of assets. Despite the adequate number of operational banks, 31 percent of cities and municipalities in the Philippines were still without banking presence as of end-2019 and 4.6 percent were without any financial access point. The level of bank account penetration – the percentage of adults with a formal transaction account – stands at 34.5 percent, nearly halfway to the central bank goal of 70 percent by 2023.
Foreign residents and non-residents may open foreign and local currency bank accounts. Although non-residents may open local currency deposit accounts, they are limited to the funding sources specified under Central Bank regulations. Should non-residents decide to convert to foreign currency their local deposits, sales of foreign currencies are limited up to the local currency balance. Non-residents’ foreign currency accounts cannot be funded from foreign exchange purchases from banks and banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank) has actively pursued reforms since the 1990s to liberalize and simplify foreign exchange regulations. As a general rule, the Central Bank allows residents and non-residents to purchase foreign exchange from banks, banks’ subsidiary/affiliate foreign exchange corporations, and other non-bank entities operating as foreign exchange dealers and/or money changers and remittance agents to fund legitimate foreign exchange obligations, subject to provision of information and/or supporting documents on underlying obligations. No mandatory foreign exchange surrender requirement is imposed on exporters, overseas workers’ incomes, or other foreign currency earners; these foreign exchange receipts may be sold for pesos or retained in foreign exchange in local and/or offshore accounts. The Central Bank follows a market-determined exchange rate policy, with scope for intervention to smooth excessive foreign exchange volatility.
Foreign exchange policies do not require approval of inward foreign direct and portfolio investments unless the investor will purchase foreign currency from banks to convert its local currency proceeds or earnings for repatriation or remittance. Registration of foreign investments with the Central Bank or custodian banks is generally optional. Duly registered foreign investments are entitled to full and immediate repatriation of capital and remittance of dividends, profits, and earnings. The Central Bank particularly requires foreign exchange for divestment purposes to be directly remitted to the account of non-resident investor on the date of purchase, with limited exemptions. To repatriate capital from investments that did not fully materialize, non-resident investors can exchange excess local currencies provided at least 50 percent of inwardly remitted foreign exchange have been invested onshore, except for certain conditions.
As a general policy, government-guaranteed private sector foreign loans/borrowings (including those in the form of notes, bonds, and similar instruments) require prior Central Bank approval. Although there are exceptions, private sector loan agreements should also be registered with the Central Bank if serviced through the purchase of foreign exchange from the banking system.
The Philippines strengthened its Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) on January 29, 2021. The amended law expands covered entities and empowers the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate covered persons.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Philippines does not presently have sovereign wealth funds.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
State-owned enterprises, known in the Philippines as government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCC), are predominantly in the finance, power, transport, infrastructure, communications, land and water resources, social services, housing, and support services sectors. There were 133 operational and functioning GOCCs as of end-2020; a list is available on the Governance Commission for GOCC [GCG] website (https://gcg.gov.ph). The government corporate sector has a combined asset of USD 300 billion and liability of USD 210 billion (or net assets/equity worth about USD 9 billion) as of end-2019. Its total income increased by 3.3 percent to USD 33 billion during the year, while total expense rose by 0.6 percent to USD 24 billion; these result in a profit of USD 9 billion. GOCCs are required to remit at least 50 percent of their annual net earnings (e.g., cash, stock, or property dividends) to the national government.
Private and state-owned enterprises generally compete equally. The Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) is the only agency, with limited exceptions, allowed to provide coverage for the government’s insurance risks and interests, including those in build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects and privatized government corporations. Since the national government acts as the main guarantor of loans, stakeholders report GOCCs often have an advantage in obtaining financing from government financial institutions and private banks. Most GOCCs are not statutorily independent, thus could potentially be subject to political interference.
OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs
The Philippines is not an OECD member country. The 2011 GOCC Governance Act addresses problems experienced by GOCCs, including poor financial performance, weak governance structures, and unauthorized allowances. The law allows unrestricted access to GOCC account books and requires strict compliance with accounting and financial disclosure standards; establishes the power to privatize, abolish, or restructure GOCCs without legislative action; and sets performance standards and limits on compensation and allowances. The GCG formulates and implements GOCC policies. GOCC board members are limited to one-year term and subject to reappointment based on a performance rating set by GCG, with final approval by the Philippine President.
The Philippine Government’s privatization program is managed by the Privatization Management Office (PMO) under the Department of Finance (DOF). The privatization of government assets undergoes a public bidding process. Apart from restrictions stipulated in FINL, no regulations discriminate against foreign buyers and the bidding process appears to be transparent. Additional information is available on the PMO website (http://www.pmo.gov.ph/index.htm).
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) is regularly practiced in the Philippines, although no domestic laws require it. The Philippine Tax Code provides RBC-related incentives to corporations, such as tax exemptions and deductions. Various non-government organizations and business associations also promote RBC. The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) is the largest corporate-led social development foundation involved in advocating corporate citizenship practice in the Philippines. U.S. companies report strong and favorable responses to RBC programs among employees and within local communities.
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
The Philippines is not an OECD member country. The Philippine government strongly supports RBC practices among the business community but has not yet endorsed the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to stakeholders.
Corruption is a pervasive and long-standing problem in both the public and private sectors. The country’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index declined to the 115th spot (out of 180), its worst score in eight years. Philippine efforts to control corruption appears stagnant since 2012. The ranking was also dragged by the government’s poor response to COVID-19, having been characterized as abusive enforcement of and major violations of human rights and media freedom, according to Transparency International. Various organizations, including the World Economic Forum, have cited corruption among the top problematic factors for doing business in the Philippines. The Bureau of Customs is still considered to be one of the most corrupt agencies in the country.
The Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 outlines strategies to reduce corruption by streamlining government transactions, modernizing regulatory processes, and establishing mechanisms for citizens to report complaints. A front line desk in the Office of the President, the Presidential Complaint Center, or PCC (https://op-proper.gov.ph/contact-us/), receives and acts on corruption complaints from the general public. The PCC can be reached through its complaint hotline, text services (SMS), and social media sites.
The Philippine Revised Penal Code, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Code of Ethical Conduct for Public Officials all aim to combat corruption and related anti-competitive business practices. The Office of the Ombudsman investigates and prosecutes cases of alleged graft and corruption involving public officials, with more information available on its website. Cases against high-ranking officials are brought before a special anti-corruption court, the Sandiganbayan, while cases against low-ranking officials are filed before regional trial courts.
The Office of the President can directly investigate and hear administrative cases involving presidential appointees in the executive branch and government-owned and controlled corporations. Soliciting, accepting, and/or offering/giving a bribe are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment, a fine, and/or disqualification from public office or business dealings with the government. Government anti-corruption agencies routinely investigate public officials, but convictions by courts are limited, often appealed, and can be overturned. Recent positive steps include the creation of an investors’ desk at the Ombudsman’s Office, and corporate governance reforms of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery
The Philippines ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003. It is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Office of the Ombudsman
Ombudsman Building, Agham Road, North Triangle
Diliman, Quezon City
Hotline: (+632) 8926.2662
Telephone: (+632) 8479.7300
Email/Website: firstname.lastname@example.org / http://www.ombudsman.gov.ph/
Terrorist groups and criminal gangs operate around the country. The Department of State publishes a consular information sheet and advises all Americans living in or visiting the Philippines to review the information periodically. A travel advisory is in place for those U.S. citizens contemplating travel to the Philippines.
Terrorist groups, including the ISIS-Philippines affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP) and elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), periodically attack civilian targets, kidnap civilians – including foreigners – for ransom, and engage in armed attacks against government security forces. These groups have mostly carried out their activities in the western and central regions of Mindanao, including the Sulu Archipelago and Sulu Sea. Groups affiliated with ISIS-Philippines continued efforts to recover from battlefield losses, recruiting and training new members, and staging suicide bombings and attacks with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and small arms that targeted security forces and civilians.
In 2017, ISIS-affiliated groups in Mindanao occupied and held siege to Marawi City for five months, prompting President Duterte to declare martial law over the entire Mindanao region – approximately one-third of the country’s territory. After granting multiple extensions of over two and a half years, Congress, with support from the government, allowed martial law to lapse on December 31, 2019. In expressing its support for the decision, the military cited improvement in the security climate in Mindanao, but also noted that Proclamation 55, a national state of emergency declaration, remained in effect and would be used as necessary.
The Philippines’ most significant human rights problems were killings allegedly undertaken by vigilantes, security forces, and insurgents; cases of apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process; official corruption; shrinking civic spaces; and a weak and overburdened criminal justice system notable for slow court procedures, weak prosecutions, and poor cooperation between police and investigators. In 2020, the Philippines has seen a number of arrests and killings of human rights defenders and members of the media.
President Duterte’s administration continued its nationwide campaign against illegal drugs, led primarily by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which continues to receive worldwide attention for its harsh tactics. In 2020, the government also renewed focus on anti-terrorism with a particular emphasis against communist insurgents. In addition to Philippine military and police actions against the insurgents, the Philippine government also pressured a number of political groups and activists – accusing them of links to the NPA, often without evidence. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, signed into law on July 3, intends to prevent, prohibit, and penalize terrorism in the country, although critics question whether law enforcement and prosecutors might be able to use the law to punish political opponents and endanger human rights.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Managers of U.S. companies in the Philippines report that local labor costs are relatively low and workers are highly motivated, with generally strong English language skills. As of October 2020, the Philippine labor force reached 44 million workers, with an employment rate of 91.3 percent and an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent. These figures include employment in the informal sector and do not capture the substantial rates of underemployment in the country. Youths between the ages of 15 and 24 made up over 19 percent of the unemployed. More than half of all employment was in the services sector, with 57.2 percent. Agriculture and industry sectors constitute 24.5 percent and 18.3 percent, respectively.
Compensation packages in the Philippines tend to be comparable with those in neighboring countries. Regional Wage and Productivity Boards meet periodically in each of the country’s 16 administrative regions to determine minimum wages. The non-agricultural daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is approximately USD 10, although some private sector workers receive less. Most regions set their minimum wage significantly lower than Metro Manila. Violation of minimum wage standards is common, especially non-payment of social security contributions, bonuses, and overtime. Philippine law also provides for a comprehensive set of occupational safety and health standards. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has responsibility for safety inspection, but a shortage of inspectors has made enforcement difficult.
The Philippines Constitution enshrines the right of workers to form and join trade unions. The trend among firms using temporary contract labor to lower employment costs continues despite government efforts to regulate the practice. The DOLE Secretary has the authority to end strikes and mandate a settlement between parties in cases involving national interest. DOLE amended its rules concerning disputes in 2013, specifying industries vital to national interest: hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC). Economic zones often offer on-site labor centers to assist investors with recruitment. Although labor laws apply equally to economic zones, unions have noted some difficulty organizing inside the zones.
The Philippines is signatory to all International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions but has faced challenges with enforcement. Unions allege that companies or local officials use illegal tactics to prevent workers from organizing. The quasi-judicial National Labor Relations Commission reviews allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities. Meanwhile, the NTIPC monitors the application of international labor standards.
Reports of forced labor in the Philippines continue, particularly in connection with human trafficking in the commercial sex, domestic service, agriculture, and fishing industries, as well as online sexual exploitation of children.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance Programs
The U.S. International Development Finance Corp. (DFC) provides debt financing, partial credit guarantees, political risk insurance, grants, equity investment, and private equity capital to support U.S. investors and their investments. It does so under a bilateral agreement with the Philippines. DFC can provide debt financing, in the form of direct loans and loan guarantees, of up to USD 1 billion per project for business investments, preferably with U.S. private sector participation, covering sectors as diverse as tourism, transportation, manufacturing, franchising, power, infrastructure, and others. DFC political risk insurance for currency inconvertibility, expropriation, and political violence for U.S. and other investments including equity, loans and loan guarantees, technical assistance, leases, and consigned inventory or equipment is also available for business investments in the Philippines. Grants are available for projects that are already reasonably developed but need additional, limited funding and specific work – for example technical, environment and social, or legal – in order to be bankable and eligible for DFC financing or insurance. In all cases, DFC support is available only where sufficient or appropriate investment support is unavailable from local or other private sector financial institutions. In addition, DFC supports fifteen private equity funds that are eligible to invest in projects within the Philippines.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source*
USG or international statistical source
USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($B USD)
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data, as of end-2019
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment
Outward Direct Investment
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
The Philippine Central Bank does not publish or post inward and outward FDI stock broken down by country. Total stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that the Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). As of the third quarter of 2020, inward direct investment (i.e. liabilities) is USD 95 billion, while outward direct investment (i.e., assets) is USD 61 billion.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of end-2019
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Debt Securities
British Virgin Islands
The Philippine Central Bank disaggregates data into equity and debt securities but does not publish or post the stock of portfolio investments assets broken down by country. Total foreign portfolio investment stock figures are reported under the “International Investment Position” data that Central Bank publishes and submits to the International Monetary Fund’s Dissemination Standards Bulletin Board (DSBB). As of third quarter 2020, outward portfolio investment (i.e., assets) was USD 30.9 billion, of which USD 3.9 billion was in equity investments and USD 27 billion was in debt securities.