Govt tarries on PLDT-Digitel deal

By Mia M. Gonzalez, BusinessMirror

Posted at Aug 30 2011 07:15 AM | Updated as of Aug 30 2011 03:15 PM

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has assured the public that their interest and welfare would determine any government action on the merger between the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and Digital Telecommunications Philippines Inc. (Digitel).

Mr. Aquino said in a pre-recorded interview with Radio Mindanao Network aired on Monday that his administration is committed to keeping its promised “level playing field” to the business community.

“Our interest is to ensure that there is no monopoly where no one can compete anymore. If not, we will return to the situation where we are dependent on the capability of whoever is left behind. So what we are after—our promise to the entire business community—is a level playing field,” the President said.

He said he “will ensure” that “the direction” to be taken by the government in the PLDT-Digitel merger “would help advance the interest of the people.”

Mr. Aquino made the statement when asked for comment on concerns that once it seals its merger with Digitel, PLDT may discontinue unlimited calls and texts, and other promotional programs that have been benefiting mobile-phone subscribers.

“The commitment of PLDT is that they will continue that service. We are attempting to resolve that complaint [on promotional programs],” the President said.

He recalled, however, that when PLDT had the monopoly of the telecommunications industry, it was so difficult to get a phone line.

Mr. Aquino added that he had received data showing that PLDT, “though it had the monopoly for the longer time, was unable to hit 2 million units of landline.” “What does this mean? When all these telcos came in, there was decongestion, and there are now reportedly 85 million cell phones in the Philippines,” he said.

Mr. Aquino noted that cell phones have become “very important” especially in disaster mitigation and management, where government messages warning of landslides, flash floods and other impending calamities in vulnerable areas are easily transmitted through texting.

“We are trying to get everyone to agree. There are a lot of frequencies, there are a lot of technical complications but at the end of the day, the interest of the state is to ensure that there will be necessary services not only for voice and text but, more important, for flood warnings, landslides,” he said.

Earlier, businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, PLDT’s top honcho, threatened to drop the deal if it is not approved by August 26, the latest deadline he set.  The National Telecommunications Commission consistently failed to approve the deal in the earlier deadlines PLDT announced.