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[OPINION] Tools of the oligarchs

DEMAND AND SUPPLY – Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) – August 26, 2020 – 12:00am

It is ironic that congressmen claimed they were dismantling the oligarchy as they demonized ABS-CBN. As it turns out, there can be no greater tools of the oligarchs than members of Congress, the House of Representatives in particular.

Last month, I warned in this column of a move to include a provision in the ARISE bill that castrates the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC). They managed to sneak that in the Bayanihan 2 bill:

“The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) shall promote business continuity and capacity building, as such, all mergers and acquisitions with transaction values below fifty billion pesos (P50,000,000,000) shall be exempt from compulsory notification under Section 17 of Republic Act No. 10667 or the Philippine Competition Act if entered into within a period of two (2) years from the effectivity of this Act, and further, shall be exempt from the PCC’s power to review mergers and acquisitions motu proprio provided in Section 12 of Republic Act No. 10667 for a period of one year from the effectivity of this Act.”

This could only be the handiwork of politicians beholden to oligarchs. Contrary to the purpose of Bayanihan 2, it will not help the economy recover. Expect big mergers and acquisitions by the acquisitive cronies of this regime with questionable public interest implications.

The P50 billion threshold increases PCC’s present requirement for merger notification of P2.4 billion by more than 20 times!!!

The PCC has reviewed around 300 proposed mergers since it was created in 2016. Only 17 of these were in excess of P50 billion.  Practically all of those were approved because they involved global transactions of multinationals with minimal impact on the Philippine economy.

This insertion will benefit the big LOCAL monopolies, duopolies and would-be dominant players. For example, the water company of a very prominent politician is on a buying spree. Maybe the appetite of a Chinoy businessman from Davao in acquiring local companies has not been satisfied yet.

It is simply horrible that we have people taking advantage of the times to put themselves in positions to make oodles of money over the long run. Monopolies and oligopolies ought to be controlled because if left by themselves, their pricing power eventually works against the interest of consumers.

Our current economic emergency situation makes it even more necessary to have an effective watchdog like the PCC to protect the public interest. As it is, DTI is having a tough time controlling prices of basic goods.

These congressmen used the pandemic as an excuse to undo the gains of the Philippine Competition Commission in one fell swoop. Yet, the need for healthy competition did not go away just because of the pandemic. On the contrary… it is greater.

The provision slipped through while everyone was focused on stopping Rep. LRay Villafuerte from ramming through his conversion of P10 billion meant to help small and medium tourism enterprises get back on their feet into an infrastructure pork barrel fund.

Tourism stakeholders and past and present tourism officials pointed out there was no urgent need for more infrastructure in the tourism industry. Tourism enterprises would be all dead without help. All those so called infrastructure are useless without a thriving tourism industry.

Actually, even when the current TIEZA was called Philippine Tourism Authority, congressmen used its funds raised from travel taxes to build toilets and basketball courts. Those can hardly be called tourism infrastructure, but congressmen loved them for the pork.

Well, the congressman got their way. P1 billion was set aside for “tourism” infrastructure under DPWH because Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Another P4 billion was allocated to DOLE, supposedly to help tourism employees who lost their jobs due to the Covid lockdowns.

Now the tourism entrepreneurs who need help must fall in line at Small Business Corp. with other cooperatives, hospitals and MSMEs for a share of the P10 billion assistance fund.

It is just so deplorable that our congressmen cannot for one minute, act honorably in the public interest given the emergency situation caused by the Covid epidemic. They were focused on getting their share of pork barrel funds.

That’s because the quality of our members of Congress has become lower than ever. That’s why our politics is as bad as it is… why governance is horrible. This is why we have fallen behind our ASEAN peers in development.

No wonder people are losing their faith in our country. I was almost in tears as I read an article written by a 29 year old IT professional why he hates he was born Filipino. Here is the link:

“You think it’s okay to continue reading about elected primates guzzling taxpayers’ hard-earned money down the drain, without even the tiniest bit of remorse while they’re doing it?”

He said it… and it is sad how our generation failed our future generations. The country is worse off today than it was when I was growing up.

The youth are supposed to be the hope of the fatherland… but what if our youth have lost hope… and understandably so?

Yes, it is because our Congress is a viper nest of vested interests.

This young man saw it and said sadly, “if I do get the first opportunity to work and become a citizen somewhere except here, you best believe I’m taking the earliest flight out.”

How many of our young people feel that way? I remember seeing a survey of young people some years ago and the dream most of them had was to leave the country, and it wasn’t as bad then as it is now.

I had the opportunity to leave, but I made a decision long ago to stay and try to make a difference. I was, after all, of the First Quarter Storm generation.

I just turned 70, I have covered Congress, City Halls and seen politicians up close. I have seen the tide of evil consistently overwhelming historical records from the people we elect. It gets worse year after year. I can appreciate that young man’s point.