Competition body relies on partnership with media in protecting consumers

In Photo: Balisacan: “When we introduce ourselves, we are often asked if the PCC is involved in sports. It is in this regard that we invite media as partners in educating the public about the benefits of competition.”

The lack of information among consumers about their rights and the ways to demand that these rights be observed have resulted in weak enforcement of consumer-protection laws.

Oftentimes, consumers are left with no remedies because the processes toward enforcing their rights could be tedious, and consumers would not be willing to engage big corporations in litigations for small losses they have incurred, because the recovery of those losses is simply not worth the costs.

This is especially true in cases where the losses come from anti-competitive and unfair practices of monopolies or duopolies operating public utilities, where there are always suspicions that there are transactions resulting in billions of pesos in unlawful costs incurred by the public, in general, but which costs are distributed among all the consumers captured by such monopolies so the costs to be incurred by each individual consumer are negligible.

With the establishment of the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), however, the government seeks to take up the cudgels for the consumers to enforce their rights, and ensure they will not fall victims to anticompetitive and unfair practices of big corporations found to be abusing their dominant position in the market.

And the PCC, in line with the Duterte administration’s policy to make the media industry a partner for change, also seeks the media’s help in spreading the advocacy of promoting competition in all the other Philippine industries to ultimately redound to vibrant competition, which will force corporations to find ways to become more efficient and offer the best services at the lowest prices.

Although there already exists a law since the 1930s against anticompetitive practices and illegal combinations in restraint of trade, civil and criminal actions against these practices have been unheard of, until now when the PCC stood in the way of a deal between PLDT, Globe and San Miguel Corp.’s telecommunications subsidiaries.

However, even with the publicity created by the PCC’s bid to review and stop the deal should it prove to be anticompetitive, the PCC continues to be a relatively obscure agency among consumers, in general.

“When we introduce ourselves, we are often asked if the PCC is involved in sports,” PCC Chairman Arsenio M. Balisacan said.

“It is in this regard that we invite media as partners in educating the public about the benefits of competition,” he added.

Balisacan explained that the government has adopted a protectionist policy during the 1950s to the 1980s, resulting in inefficiencies in the various industries, to the detriment of the consuming public.

“Because of these protectionist policies, monopolies, oligopolies and duopolies prospered, resulting in higher prices, lower quality, less options and less choices in terms of the variety of goods and services available,” Balisacan said.

During the 1990s, a wave of major deregulation was effected by the government in certain vital industries, like the airline industry, banking sector, telecommunications industry and maritime industry.

But Balisacan said a second wave of liberalization should happen to follow through on those accomplishments and extend the liberalization to other industries so competition will be encouraged. To achieve this goal, the PCC is relying on the media industry to make consumers aware of the benefits of a vibrant competition among businesses, and the action that they may take against anti-competitive practices.

Although the PCC may act motu proprio on suspected anti-competitive practices and abuses of dominant position by big corporations, the agency is still inviting the public to report possible violations of the country’s new anti-competition law.

PCC Commissioner El Cid R. Butuyan explained that when complaints are filed with the PCC regarding possible violations of the anticompetition law, the PCC conducts a vetting procedure to find probable cause on whether it would launch a full investigation on the complaint.

Butuyan said that, based on some complaints the PCC had received, a preliminary inquiry into alleged anticompetition practices in the cement industry and the power sector is being conducted.

Balisacan said a national competition-policy review will be complete by 2017 to determine where free competition is present among the various Philippine industries and where it is not. This will be the basis for a priority list of industries on which the PCC can focus on for dismantling monopolies, oligopolies and duopolies.

“We’re conducting a national competition-policy review to determine what portion of the economy is really free right now. There are various publications by third parties ranking countries in terms of competitiveness and economic freedom. Although there has been substantial change, we’re still far away from the state of competitiveness and economic freedom of countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. We need to continue improving our practices, particularly regulatory practices, and ease of doing business,” Balisacan said.

Image Credits: Nonoy Lacza

David Cagahastian

Dave Cagahastian is BusinessMirror's reporter covering the Office of the President and the Department of Labor and Employment. He has recently finished a law degree from the University of the Philippines, and holds a business degree from the International Academy of Business and Economics. In the past two years in a row, he had won the Sinag Financial Literacy Journalism Award sponsored by Sun Life Financial Philippines, getting the third place in 2014 then ‎the first prize in 2015.