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Metro Opinion

Opening-up

account_balanceMetro Opinion account_circleLeigh Bellosillo chat_bubble_outline0 Comments

Transport is a critical segment of the economy.  Pre-pandemic, our transport system left so much to be desired.  The TV news programs and social media accounts were full of narratives about the pitiful condition of Filipino commuters who had to squeeze their way into overloaded buses and trains to go to work. One boards an MRT fresh, but gets out almost looking wilted.

Obviously, the transport condition needs improvement. This has not escaped the keen eyes of food and beverage conglomerate San Miguel Corporation.  Its wholly-owned subsidiary, SMC Infrastructure, has been quite busy working to deliver on major projects that are key to economic recovery. 

Since it opened the northbound section of the Skyway Extension project, travel to the north has been much faster.  The company also opened the Nagtahan northbound and southbound exit ramps of the new Skyway Stage 3. This would significantly ease traffic on major roads and busy streets that lead to Sta. Mesa and other parts of Manila.

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In March last year, at the height of the pandemic when everybody was trying to comprehend the full meaning of the lockdown, members of the House of Representatives approved a bill allowing full foreign ownership of power, transport and communications companies.

The Senate version, SB 2094, remains pending. Noticing its apparent lethargic status, President Duterte a couple of months ago prevailed on the lawmakers to pass three economic bills that relax the entry of foreign investors in the country.

Marketed as incentives to attract more outside investments, in support of economic recovery, the three priority measures include SB 2094 which aims to revise certain provisions of the archaic Public Service Act of 1936.

The adoption of public service under the proposed measure had evolved. It distinguishes "public utilities" from "public services." Redefinition is introduced. The measure changes the interpretation of "public utilities" to services imbued with public interest. It also limits basic services to electricity distribution, electricity transmission, and water pipeline distribution systems and sewerage pipeline systems.

As I see it, however, SB 2094 revises the grandfather rule of 60-40, which means majority is Filipino- owned with foreign partners allowed a maximum of 40 percent. The 1987 Constitution states that a firm operating as a "public utility" should be 60-percent owned by a Filipino.

In the same breath, the measure amends the negative list in the Foreign Investment Act, where it clearly stipulates that ownership in media, utilities, telecommunications, and transportation remains in the hands of Filipinos as it exempts telecommunications, transportation power generation, petroleum, and wireless communications from the constitutional requirement of 60-percent Filipino ownership.

Provincial bus operators, however, are opposed to the provisions of SB 2094. This is because public utilities are of national interest and “cannot be controlled by a foreign entity.”

It is argued that landmark changes such as this which are contrary to the provisions of the Constitution should be undertaken the proper way. And that is through constitutional convention (Concon).

This then brings to light another thought.  It may be a diversionary tactic to change some of the provisions in the Constitution, including the cap on service tenure of elected officials.

Let me turn the table. Instead of filling you in, provide me with your take on this.


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