‘Antitrust measure to hurdle committee level in August’
- Written by Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz
“That [bill] is definitely one of the priorities. It is on the Palace list and our list. It’s now in the advance level; anytime [after the adjournment sine die on July 27] it can hurdle committee level because the technical working group [TWG] prioritizes it,” House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte told the BusinessMirror.
“It will be approved at committee level in early August. We will try to fast-track it,” Belmonte added.
Foreign business chambers here, as well as local business groups, view the Philippine Fair Competition Act as an important reform package that will make the country more attractive to investors once enacted into law. The measure is among the priority bills of the Palace for the 16th Congress.
According to Belmonte the measure aims to minimize, if not totally eradicate, unfair competition, monopolies and cartels. The bill also heavily penalizes monopoly, anticompetitive mergers and other unfair trade practices.
Monopoly, according to the measure, shall mean a privilege or undue advantage of one or more firms, consisting of the exclusive right to carry on a particular business or trade, and or manufacture a particular product, article or object of trade, commerce or industry. It is a form of market structure in which one or only a few firms dominate the total sales of a product or service.
Belmonte’s House Bill (HB) 1133, now pending at the TWG of House Committee on Trade and Industry chaired by Nacionalista Party Rep. Mark Villar of Las Piñas City, also proposes to create the Philippine Fair Trade Commission that will prosecute those engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices and other such practices with the purpose of preventing, restricting or distorting competition.
There are also other versions of the bill that have been filed at the lower chamber: Deputy House Speaker and Leyte Rep. Sergio Apostol’s HB 4320; HB 2627 of Rep. Diosdado Ignacio “Dato” Arroyo Camarines Sur and Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga; HB 3366 of Rep. Teodorico Haresco Jr. of Lone District, Aklan; HB 388 of Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City, HB 453 of Rep. Marcelino Teodoro of Marikina City.
These bills, now all pending at the House Committee on Trade and Industry, also propose to create the Philippine Fair Trade Commission, a powerful independent body, tasked to investigate and prosecute erring corporations, businessmen and other people engaged in unfair trade practices.
According to Apostol the bill is in response to Section 19, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution that provides: ‘The State shall regulate or prohibit monopolies when the public interest so requires.”
Apostol said any violation of Section 22 of the same article shall be considered inimical to the national interest and subject to criminal and civil sanctions.
Apostol informed Belmonte that the draft law imposes heavy penalties on violators. “If the violator is a foreigner, he shall, in addition to the other penalties imposed by it, be deported after serving a jail term without need of any further proceedings,” he emphasized.
“No doubt Speaker Belmonte will fully support the measure when they ask the President to certify it as urgent,” Apostol said.
Without prejudice to the violation of other laws, any person criminally violating the provisions of the proposed act shall be punished, for each and every violation, a fine of not less than P10 million and not exceeding P50 million; and between P250 million and P750 million for a firm and by an imprisonment not exceeding 10 years for the key officers or officials of the firm, or both.
According to Apostol, “the increased deviousness and complexity of schemes in perpetuating monopolies in the country by multinational competitors necessitates an equally sophisticated legislation that would effectively address this concern.”
“Protection against price manipulation is an effective way by which the government can provide our people better access to various goods and commodities in the market. By providing an equal playing field in the business sector, consumers will have an improved access to affordable and, at the same time, quality goods,” Apostol said.
The Arroyos said, “For too long, our people have stood up at the mercy of huge industries. Due to lack of regulation and safeguards, unscrupulous businessmen have found ingenious ways to artificially control prices and manipulate the free market system.”
For Haresco, the existing antitrust laws do not provide for clear-cut guidelines, elements/requisites or evidence to determine whether an act constitutes unfair competition, monopolistic behavior or restraint of trade.
“We need a proper body to determine whether there is any violation of anti-trust laws,” he said.
Teodoro said his proposed bill is a reaction to observation of industries being cartelized when few suppliers of a vital product conspire to fix prices to the detriment of the public.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, said the lack of genuine competition in certain industries impairs public welfare and undermines the country’s credibility to provide a business climate conducive to investment.
Earlier, Alfredo Yao, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, during the House of Representatives meeting with the Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce and Philippine business groups, said Congress should consider the fair competition law.
“There should be a level playing field for businesses to provide better services and products,” Yao said.