Some senators worry about opening public utilities to foreigners
MANILA, Philippines — The proposal to open up all utilities to foreign ownership was met with apprehension and more questions even from some senators.
At the resumption of Charter change (Cha-cha) hearing on Monday, Sen. Grace Poe noted that the Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 would open all utilities to foreign ownership, investments, and even management “without a constitutional protection grounded on national security and domestic interests.”
The resolution was initiated by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, and Sen. Sonny Angara, who is leading the Cha-cha discussion as chairman of the subcommittee on constitutional amendments.
“This is not just an issue about the entry of foreign capital and businesses. Let’s also look at the possible effects: Filipinos could lose control over all public service sectors. Other countries could control our water, electricity, seaports, gasoline, and public utility jeeps. Are we ready for this? Can we compete with them?” Poe asked in Filipino during the hearing.
“Will Filipinos and local businesses be able to keep up with the entry of foreign competition in all industries? Can we be sure that our country will progress with the entry of foreign investors? These are the questions that need to be answered.”
“Is it a matter of amending the Constitution or, as we often say, efficiently managing our agencies, reducing corruption, if not entirely eradicating it, and limiting bureaucracy?” she added.
Poe, head of the Senate public services committee, insisted that existing laws like the amended Public Service Act (PSA) and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act already allowed more foreign investors into the country.
The question she raised then: Is Cha-cha still needed to say the Philippines is open for business?
“They said the economy is closed. But the truth is we are open to foreign investors. We have made great strides in the past years liberalizing our economy without compromising our national security or leaving behind Filipino businesses,” Poe pointed out.
“Would amending the public utilities provisions in our Constitution open the economy or open a can of worms?” she went on.
Sen. JV Ejercito echoed the same sentiments.
Aside from the amended PSA, Ejercito cited the recently passed Public Private Partnership Code, which he said is also intended to improve the country’s services, utilities, infrastructure, and energy sector.
“Is Charter change really needed at this point now that these two legislations were already passed which are intended to improve our utilities and others?” Ejercito asked.
“We really have to be very careful about all of these things. We can’t rush, we can’t put deadlines, we can’t be pressured because it’s not very easy to amend the Constitution. So we can’t make mistakes,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Sen. Risa Hontiveros warned of “grave national security risks” if critical utilities were opened to state-owned foreign companies.
She also wanted to know if “the problem really is the lack of foreign investments or our chronic failure to address anti-competitive monopolistic behavior?”
“Instead of breaking the monopoly of dominant domestic companies through Charter Change, will they just be replaced by foreign companies? The situation may remain the same, or may even get worse,” Hontiveros said.