More choices, better services, lower cost seen with Public Service Act -Poe

Senator Grace Poe discusses the then proposed amendment to the Public Service Act of 1936 to allow foreign direct investments in the telecommunications, transportation, and multimedia industries during the BusinessWorld Industry 4.0 Summit in Taguig in 2019. (Philippine News Agency photo)

CALOOCAN CITY, March 11 (PIA) -- Senator Grace Poe on Wednesday said the passage of the amendments to the Public Service Act (PSA) will usher in more choices, improved services and lower cost of basic services which the people badly need amid the pandemic era.

"Magiging paligsahan ang pagbibigay ng dekalidad na serbisyo at produkto sa pinakamababang presyo para sa mga Pilipino. Inaasahan nating ito na ang magwawakas sa 'take it or leave it' attitude ng mga nagpakasasang monopolya nitong nakaraang siglo," Poe said in her sponsorship speech of the committee report of the Public Service Act Amendments.

The measure seeks to amend the 85-year-old Commonwealth Act 146 or the Public Service Act to make it in tune with the needs of the 110 million Filipinos for more and better providers of public services.

Poe said one of the amendments being pushed is the increase of the measly P200 penalty per day of violation of service providers to P2 million, plus "disgorgement of profits" and additional "treble damages."

"Sa lumang kalakaran, marahil ay mas makakatipid pa sila kung magbayad ng multa kaysa pagandahin ang kanilang serbisyo publiko... If public interest is not enough incentive, we certainly hope that these updated fines will," Poe said.

The measure proposed to clear the ambiguity surrounding the interchangeably used terms "public utility" and "public service."

The proposal limits public utility to three services: distribution of electricity; transmission of electricity; and water pipeline distribution and sewerage pipeline systems.

The senator explained that public utilities are to be treated as natural monopolies which must be restricted pursuant to Section 11, Article XII of the Constitution. All other public services that are not natural monopolies will be freed from such foreign equity restriction but not from any of their other responsibilities as public service providers, she pointed out.

"We are not redefining things. We are declaring as public policy that the expansion of the investment base will benefit the public by allowing meaningful competition with more players, domestic and foreign, to slug it out to win the satisfaction of the consuming Filipino people," Poe said.

As the realm of public services evolves, Poe said the bill gives the National Economic and Development Authority, Philippine Competition Commission, and all concerned agencies, power to recommend to Congress to reclassify public services as public utilities based on the following criteria: -One, the service regularly supplies and directly transmits and distributes to the public through a network a commodity or service of public consequence; -Two, the service is a natural monopoly; -Three, the service is necessary for the maintenance of life and occupation of the public; and -Four, the service is obligated to provide adequate service to the public on demand.

"Maraming safeguards ang inilagay sa panukalang ito na naglalayong protektahan ang interes ng ating bayan at mga kababayan, at siguruhin na walang iisang bansa ang mangingibabaw sa pamumuhunan sa ating mga pampublikong sector," Poe said.

A provision in the bill mandates the National Security Council to initiate a review of foreign investments that would result in the control of critical infrastructure in the country. These are the transmission and distribution of electricity, water and sewerage pipeline systems, telcos, and common carriers.

In the reciprocity clause, it is also provided that foreign nationals may only own more than 40 percent of the public services identified as critical infrastructure if their country accords a reciprocal right to Filipinos by law, treaty or international agreement.

Moreover, foreign employees are only allowed after a determination of non-availability of a competent, able and willing Filipino. Foreign employment shall not be more than 25 percent of the total employees of any given corporation.

Other safeguards in the bill include the critical infrastructure's compliance with ISO standards on information security, annual performance audit, regular studies and comprehensive baseline survey to be performed by several administrative agencies, and the conduct of a congressional oversight and periodic review.

"These amendments to the Public Service Act have the capacity not only to improve the quality of public services in the country, but also to transform the Philippines into a more globally competitive arena where businesses flourish, and each and every Filipino thrives," Poe said.



Source: Philippines Information Agency (pia.gov.ph)

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