MANILA — It is "possible" for the government to take over telecommunication firms that fail to deliver quality service to the public, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Tuesday, lending weight to a threat by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte in his fifth State of the Address on Monday urged the duopoly of PLDT and Globe Telecom to improve their services or face "closure" or "expropriation."
"That is possible," Sotto told ANC. "The government can remove those franchises anytime with another law."
The government ran a telephone service in the 1960s, he said, adding that local telcos "should seriously take up what the President said."
He added that Duterte's remarks only concern Smart and Globe and are not intended for foreign investors.
"To each his own," he added. "We’ll just have to accept the fact that that is the style of the President. The formal speeches are not his strength. He got extemporaneous," Sotto said.
Duterte in his penultimate SONA told telcos: "Kindly improve the services before December. I want to call Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, better have that line cleared."
"If you are not ready to improve, I might just as well close all of you and we revert back to the line telephone at kukunin ko yan (I will take that) expropriate ko sa gobyerno (to the government)," he said.
In the interview, Sotto said Congress had passed a law that "practically removed red tape already."
Telcos should report violators of the law and the government will "go after these people who are giving you a hard time," he said.
For his part, Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon warned the threat on telcos after the shutdown of ABS-CBN's broadcast operations was a form of "regulatory capture of the country’s major public firms."
"There is no more going around this: The President himself is leading the attack on regulated sectors on the flimsiest reasons. This does not in anyway advance the public interest: it impinges economic growth, undermines confidence in the economy and violates the sanctity of contracts. Improving telco services without government support will not happen by December 2020," he said in a statement.
He added: "If President Rodrigo Duterte is serious about improving telco services, he should order national agencies and local governments to expedite the approval of at least 25 regulatory permits for the building of a single cell tower."
Third telecommunications player DITO Telecommunity, aiming to challenge the duopoly of Globe and PLDT, has enjoyed Duterte's support when he said there was "no corruption" in the consortium.
DITO is composed of Dennis Uy's Udenna Corp and Chelsea Logistics with China Telecom. Uy is a long-time ally of the President while Beijing has had friendly bilateral relations with the Philippines under Duterte's administration.
- With a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News