By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan
THE Public Service Act (PSA) that emerges from the amendment process seeks to strike a balance between liberalization and safeguarding the national interest, a senior Senator who wrote the chamber’s amendment bill said.
The measure, Senator Mary Grace Natividad S. Poe-Llamanzares, primary author and sponsor of the bill, told BusinessWorld in a Viber message, “puts the welfare of our people topmost by promoting competition among providers that will result in improved services, lower prices, and better quality of life for all.”
Senate Bill 2094, certified as urgent by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, seeks to amend an 85-year-old law to modify the legal definition of public services, currently included in the “public utilities” industry, to allow more foreign ownership.
Ms. Poe, who chairs the Senate Public Services committee, said the current version of the bill carried “adequate safeguards to address questions on national security, reciprocity, labor and information security.”
Presidential candidate and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Sr. has declared his opposition to opening up the shipping industry to 100% foreign ownership due to concerns over national and food security.
“I am taking the position that we should not open up our transport service to 100% ownership,” Mr. Lacson said in a statement. “That’s clearly a public utility regularly supplying the public with services.”
“It will kill our local shipping industry” if it opens up to that degree instead of the current 60-40 local-foreign sharing allowed in the Constitution, he added.
Mr. Lacson said full foreign ownership would lead to more foreign ships being allowed in the South China Sea, including areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and 12-nautical mile limit.
In response, Ms. Poe encouraged colleagues “to propose changes as they see fit, and if necessary, call a vote on the contentious provisions.”
“Our policies should be in tune with the needs of the time to usher in and sustain inclusive growth that leaves no Filipino behind,” she added.
Mr. Lacson said he will support moves to classify transport and telecommunications as public utilities.
“While the classification of what constitutes a public utility will have significant implications on foreign equity limitations, it should be carefully defined to be consistent with the intent of the Constitution and guided by the decisions of the Supreme Court,” Mr. Lacson said in a forum Tuesday.
Any move amending the Constitution in the guise of economic reforms, he added, “which could actually open doors to abuse and promotion of vested political interests, must be (approached) with utmost caution and hesitation.”
Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Henry Lim Bon Liong said that more foreign investment is good for the country by heightening competition, creating jobs, and forcing industries to raise their game.
With regard to problems in disputed Philippine waters, Mr. Lim Bon Liong said that for now, the country faces difficulties dealing with China. “I don›t think we can solve those problems in this generation.”
The best approach would be to work with China on joint exploration and the enhancement of technology, he added. Rather than fight China, it would be better to collaborate in modernizing the technology being used by farmers and fisherfolk.