Good cop runs after Philippines' tycoons to keep internet affordable

Cathy Yang, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 01 2018 11:04 AM | Updated as of Feb 01 2018 11:37 AM

MANILA - (UPDATE) An economist and academic at the helm of the Philippines' anti-trust watchdog runs after the country's tycoons with the same vigor as his marathon runner alter-ego, all in the name of consumers' welfare.

A long-running battle for Philippine Competition Commission Chairman Arsenio Balisacan is asserting the body's right to investigate PLDT Inc and Globe Telecom's acquisition of San Miguel Corp's telecommunications assets.

The P70-billion deal, which has reached the Supreme Court, effectively stopped San Miguel's efforts to set up a third telecommunications player that will break the duopoly of tycoon Manuel Pangilinan and the Ayala conglomerate.

"We’ve been quite active in doing that advocacy as part of improving the telecommunications in the country. Of course it’s not just directly saying Globe or PLDT, we are looking at the market as a whole," Balisacan said in an exclusive interview with ANC's The Boss.

The former director-general of the National Economic Development Authority and former dean of the University of the Philippines School of Economics run long distances on weekends to take a break from the demands of heading the country's first-ever anti-trust watchdog.

"This is a very stressful job so I have to be physically fit and running has been my hobby," he said.

Balisacan said growing up in a poor family in Ilocos Norte province helped fuel his passion for development work. His father, a farmer, took a job as a janitor in the city to bring his children closer to school.

"I didn’t know that time that by doing that he had to bring his family and squat in somebody’s land. We were squatters for a number of years," he said.

"They really tried very hard, despite the difficulty, to get us good education. That shaped our spiritual, not just our outlook in life," he said.

Good cop runs after Philippines' tycoons to keep internet affordable 1
Philippine Competition Commission Chairperson Arsenio Balisacan speaks exclusively to Cathy Yang for ANC's The Boss

The PCC has stressed the importance of its review of the PLDT-Globe deal given government's efforts to have a third player up and running by the first quarter of 2018 to help bring down costs and improve service by spurring competition.

Several players, including China Telecom, have expressed interest in partnering with a Filipino firm. The Philippines PT&T said it was considering a joint venture with a South Korean firm.

"As of now we have two players, the additional players will improve the environment whether that’s a third player or consortium or not," Balisacan said. 

"What’s important is that there’s another player coming in to serve competitive pressure so that price go down, the quality of service improve, investment of telco industry improve," he added.

The PCC under Balisacan also recently scrutinized mall giant SM's acquisition of Goldilocks Bakeshop, which would add cakes and pastries to billionaire Henry Sy's retail empire.

SM Retail served notice in writing last week that it was backing out of the deal.

“It’s a completely business decision on their part, we’re happy we went that far and they cooperated, SM presented their undertaking but at the end of the day they decided not to continue their transaction,” Balisacan said.

The watchdog had expressed concern that the deal might limit the supply of retail space in SM Malls for Goldilocks' competition and the mall operator might also share the competition's sales information with Goldilocks.

SM addressed the PCC's questions and the deal was approved last month.

Catch The Boss on ANC and iWantTV. New episodes premiere on Thursdays, with replays on the same day at 11 p.m., Fridays at 3:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.; Saturdays at 4:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., Sundays at 10 p.m. and Mondays at 9:30 a.m.