House approves on 2nd reading bill allowing foreign ownership in telco, transport

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 19 2020 01:42 PM | Updated as of Feb 19 2020 05:37 PM

MANILA — The House of Representatives approved Tuesday on second reading a bill seeking to allow foreign ownership of telecommunication and transportation businesses, which a left-wing solon claimed was a shortcut to a proposed charter change. 

House Bill No. 78 removes telecommunication and transportation from the list of public utilities in which the Public Service Act caps foreign ownership to 40 percent and reserves 60 percent for Filipinos. 

The bill was approved on 2nd reading in a viva voce vote, with those shouting Aye outvoting Nayes.

Lifting the cap on foreign ownership will "significantly contribute to increasing competition, as well as protecting the public interest," said Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda, who introduced the measure.

"More competition among providers would result in lower prices and improved quality of basic services in the Philippines creating a more competitive economy," he said.

But Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas warned that the measure will "open the gates for full foreign ownership to virtually all public services and utilities except power and water."

"The Public Services Act amendments bill is essentially Duterte's economic Charter change... Shortcut ito sa Cha-cha habang kasalukuyang tinatalakay sa komite ang mas komprehensibong pagbabago sa Konstitusyon," she told reporters. 

(This is a shortcut to charter change while a House committee tackles more comprehensive amendments to the constitution.) 

"This measure, if passed, would lead to foreign takeover of public transport systems, internet services, media and other sectors at the expense of ordinary consumers who will pay costlier services," she lamented. 

The Duterte administration earlier allowed the entry of a third telco player DITO, a consortium composed of China Telecom and Davao tycoon Dennis Uy's Chelsea Logistics and Udenna Corp, noted Brosas. 

Another Philippine-Chinese consortium, she noted, was selected by the provincial government of Cavite as the joint venture partner for the P208.5 billion phase 1 of the Sangley Point International Airport Project. 

Over a dozen lawmakers questioned House Bill 78 during an interpellation period that stretched to 6 months, Brosas said. 

"The economic impact of this measure would be disastrous. Dapat na masusing makonsidera ng Kamara ang mga agam-agam at pagtutol sa panukalang batas na ito na pabor lamang sa dayuhan," she said. 

(The House should thoroughly consider the concernsand objection to this proposed law that only favors foreigners.) 

 ISN'T IT IRONIC? 

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, meanwhile, pointed out the irony of the passage of the bill, citing how broadcast network ABS-CBN was brought to court for alleged violations of constitutional provisions on foreign ownership of media. 

He was referring to the quo warranto petition that Solicitor General Jose Calida filed against the network before the Supreme Court seeking to invalidate its franchise. 

“The tragic irony is not lost on me. While binabanatan ngayon itong ABS-CBN, may mga pinapayagan daw ang mga dayuhan na mag-invest sa ABS-CBN, several others na may PDRs (Philippine Depository Receipts) (while ABS-CBN is being hit for allegedly allowing foreigners to invest, several others with PDRs), here we are selling our public utilities to foreigners, opening up public utilities sa control ng mga (of) foreigners," he said. 

He said House Bill No. 78, which redefines public utilities covered by constitutional limits to foreign investments, would open the sectors of transportation, telecommunication and media to non-Filipino investors. 

But House Economic Affairs Committee Chair Sharon Garin, one of the sponsors of the bill, denied that media was covered. 

“No, no media, there's a specific provision in the constitution, it’s not even a public utility per se, there's a specific provision, media is 100 percent Filipino owned," she said. 

She added that the bill only limits foreign investments in electricity distribution and transmission, water distribution, and sewerage. 

Garin added that if enacted, the measure would attract more foreign investors into the country. 

-- Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News