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More teeth to antitrust law pushed

/ 04:25 AM January 04, 2020

The antitrust law has not been harsh enough to deter large companies from abusing their market powers, prompting the competition watchdog to ask Congress for “more teeth.”

The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) will propose amendments to the Philippine Competition Act, more than three years since the landmark legislation passed after languishing in Congress for more than two decades.

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While the specifics have not been fleshed out yet, the amendments will include raising the penalties for violations such as abuse of dominance, according to an interview with PCC Chair Arsenio Balisacan.

Under the competition law, a violator can face administrative and criminal penalties, which, at worst, could include paying up to P250 million in fines and spending at most seven years in jail.

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But there are also smaller fines. For example, there are cases wherein potentially anticompetitive mergers and acquisitions were approved in exchange for certain conditions.

Violating these conditions, which the PCC calls a voluntary commitment, could face a fine of up to P2 million for each violation —a consequence that didn’t seem to deter Grab Philippines, which for months have been fined for overcharging its customers.

“We find that the [current] penalties are not deterring enough. We want to ensure they would have a deterrent effect and they must be proportionately high,” Balisacan said.

“We really have to have more teeth in the fines and penalties so that they can have a deterrent effect,” he added.

Balisacan first hinted at this in his 2019 yearend report, which was released on Friday. Other amendments include giving the PCC the power to have dawn raids without any court order and “reinforcing its primary, original and exclusive jurisdiction over all competition cases.”

The latter amendment, which might appear as a given to some, would help the PCC avoid a lot of trouble since the lack of an explicit clarification might lead to a “quarrel for jurisdiction.”

Without the law drawing a clear line, other government agencies might say that they, too, can decide on competition-related cases when they fall under the sectors they regulate.

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“So that there won’t be any ambiguity,” Balisacan said, adding that this would keep companies from forum shopping, wherein they would look for the most favorable court — or agency — to decide on their case.

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TAGS: Philippine Competition Act, Philippine Competition Commission
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