House revives bills vs cartels, monopolies

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 11 2013 01:47 AM | Updated as of Jul 11 2013 09:47 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Measures seeking to encourage fair competition and deter cartels and monopolies are being readied in the current 16th Congress.

Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez filed separate anti-trust measures – House Bill 1333 and HB 388 – seeking to penalize monopolies and those who engage in unfair competition.

Belmonte said his proposed measure aims to prevent “the abuse of market-dominant positions and the excessive concentration of economic power by regulating improper concerted acts and unfair business practices.”

He said “stimulating creative business activities, protecting consumers and promoting balanced development of the national economy” are the main objectives of his proposal.

He said the Constitution expressly provides that the state shall regulate or prohibit monopolies deemed detrimental to public interest. But current laws, he said, have proven to be inadequate. Belmonte is seen to keep his post as Speaker in the current Congress.

“The economy continues to be dominated by groups of businesses with substantial market power and political influence. Also, competition in the domestic market remains restricted in key sectors,” Belmonte 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,” he said.

“A level playing field is essential for inclusive growth and development,” he added.

A comprehensive competition policy, he said, is likely to boost the country’s Gross Domestic Product to make it at par with developed nations. He also said real wages would improve and prices would drop.

Belmonte recalled President Aquino called for the enactment of an anti-trust law in his first State of the Nation address in 2010 as he wanted small- and medium-scale enterprises to contribute more to economic growth.

A key provision in Belmonte’s bill is the creation of a Philippine Fair Competition Commission under the Office of the President that shall investigate, gather evidence and initiate prosecution of those engaged in unfair trade practices.

Under the proposed measure, the commission shall have primary and sole jurisdiction over competition issues, but regulatory bodies shall continue to exercise authority over matters pertaining to firms’ operations and existence.

Prohibited under the proposed measure are Anti Competitive Conduct, including price fixing and bid rigging; Abuse of Dominant Position or engaging in unfair methods of competition; and Anti Competitive Mergers or tie-ups that would “substantially lessen competition or tend to create monopoly.”

Violators face fines of between P10 million and P50 million and/or imprisonment of not more than 10 years. Companies found guilty of violating the law would be made to pay P250 million to P750 million.