PHL entry’s on how local economy survives amid pandemic win Asean writing contest

The skyline at Makati City, the country’s main financial district, is seen in this file photo.

TWO Filipino lawyers, who wrote about how the Philippine economy coped with the pandemic, have won in the Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) Competition Law Essay Contest. 

The entry, titled “Online Platforms in a Lockdown Economy—An Asean Market Experience”, submitted by Atty. Abraham Alonzo O. Guiyab and Atty. Maria Fraulaine May L. Rapal, is among the five winning entries in the open category of the contest, according to the Asean Experts Group on Competition and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“With the hit of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippines has imposed quarantine restrictions to curb the effects of the pandemic. However, the shift in priority from the economy to health left industries in the formal and informal economy at a breaking point. As such, there was a need to adapt and shift into digitalization,” the paper says.

It notes that online platforms started to flourish with a significant growth in the number of new consumers using digital services. Local websites for food delivery service, mobile banking applications, and e-commerce particularly experienced usage increase.

Localized lockdowns and checkpoint-restricted mobility, and necessity drove more people than ever towards using fintech and other cashless solutions to access shopping portals while avoiding risk of exposure, it adds.

This was supported by larger e-commerce solutions, such as Shopee and Lazada, which offer an integrated shopping experience that facilitated everything from customer acquisition and verification to delivery and order fulfillment.

“It wasn’t only these formal outfits however which cashed in on a consumer base finding themselves ‘captive’ and thus newly receptive to trying out e-commerce transactions, countless informal and cottage industries setup shop in online spaces. Facebook groups, reseller marketplaces, and chatrooms progressed beyond simply being social spaces to being the introductory experience of many informal players into the world of e-commerce,” it says.

The authors points out that while the formal platform economy has been dominated by these integrated websites (roughly the equivalent of the shopping mall), smaller and informal players found that their e-commerce access is now determined by a tech triad: social media sites, fintech and payment methods, and logistics and small parcel delivery-apps.

“Naturally, Covid-19’s impact was not equal between these two sectors: formal players already had infrastructure in place, positioning them to capitalize on this sudden market shift. On the other hand, informal and smaller players would now find themselves navigating platforms and the less-than-transparent content standards that they may impose,” the article reads.

Given this innovation, the authors say that challenges arise on the regulation of the virtual space. Micro, small and medium enterprises that were initially hesitant to embrace online shopping and e-payment systems were pushed to shift for survival. But the government’s competition regulation is quite a sore local issue, like in the past it caused Uber’s departure. 

Since there is yet no policy that governs local digital platforms, an analysis of laws proposed by advanced foreign jurisdictions like the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom, Japan, and South Korea may be vital to aid the Philippines in solving its own issues. For instance, the EU proposed the Digital Markets Act governing gatekeepers and the Digital Services Act.

“Digital platforms have clearly been placed in a dominant position. For this reason, government regulation to promote product innovation and better options for customers while balancing entry of new participants in this emerging market is paramount,” the paper says.

The first AANZFTA Essay Contest forms part of a multi-phase Competition Law Implementation Programme, supported by the AANZFTA Economic Cooperation Support Programme. It aligns with deliverables under the Asean Competition Action Plan 2025, which was recently updated early this year and aimed to foster a competition-aware Asean Region.

The winners will be presented this month at the 9th Asean Competition Conference, themed “Safeguarding competition: A Post-pandemic Response of Asean Competition Authorities”, and the papers will be made available at the Virtual Asean Competition Research Centre.

Image credits: BusinessMirror file photo



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