Thursday, February 17, 2011

Standing up for the little guy

"Standing up for the little guy"
Domini M. Torrevillas
From the Stands, Philippine Star, Opinion
February 17, 2011

Please click on picture to enlarge and view full article by Domini Torrevillas on Atty. Lorna Kapunan's crusade for better anti-trust laws.

Full text of article re-printed below:

"By any standard, lawyer Lorna Kapunan is a formidable woman. After graduating from the University of the Philippines College of Law in the late '70s, she embarked on an impressive career that has so far spanned more than three decades. Along the way, she became recognized as one of the leading litigation lawyers in the country, representing several high profile and multi-faceted cases. Her versatility has allowed her to be proficient in several practice areas, including licensing law, franchising, corporate and commercial law, international humanitarian law, family law and estate law and succession.

The thing about Lorna is this: you will never hear her talking about herself. In fact, she may feel somewhat awkward reading the paragraph above Given her remarkable credentials and achievements (including being a Ten Outstanding Women in the Nations Service awardee and a professional lecturer at the European-based International Centre for Legal Studies), many of her colleagues in the profession would be lulled into an overblown sense of self-worth. Lorna, on the other hand, is often heard saying that a person is only as good as the causes that he or she fights for. This is precisely why she currently sits in various boards and voluntary organizations and foundations.

Her latest cause has prompted many to compare her to a proverbial David standing in front of Goliath. Last week, however, Lorna was invited by Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Manny Villar, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and other members of the Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce to speak about what she feels is a pressing concern for Filipino entrepreneurs, Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) owners, and consumers in general.

The legislators listened intently as she outlined the unfair practices of some multinational corporations (MNCs) operating in the Philippines, and discussed the lack of legislation protecting Filipinos against these activities.

It turns out that MNCs - by virtue of their size, economic clout, profit-centeredness, or a combination of all three - often act like bullies and take advantage of the leniency present in the Philippines in order to get away with violations. In particular, it is those that are engaged in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) that are notorious for this bullying behavior Unfortunately, as Lorna pointed out, this maltreatment of local distributors and the buying public has gone unabated because the government has been powerless to stop it.

'That's the saddest part,' she explained to friends in media later on. 'All we are to some foreign corporations are buyers and end-users. They do not seem to be interested in creating vertical employment, encouraging entrepreneurship, or forging beneficial partnerships with SMEs. It's all about profit, profit, and profit - and the ones getting the very short end of the stick are usually the distributors.'

Apparently, countless Filipino distributors have been literally driven to bankruptcy as a direct result of this so-called 'MNC abuses.' These abuses include baiting prospects with the promise of marketing and promotional support, as well as favorable in-house financing rates. A few months later, however, all support disappears into thin air. Moreover, distributors are suddenly endorsed to a third-party bank for financing (without prior notice), and saddled with rates much higher than agreed upon.

'This is very common,' Lorna said matter-of-factly. 'Now imagine how the problem compounds for the distributors when the MNCs engage in predatory pricing. In order to drive their competition out of the market, certain MNCs compel their distributors to sell goods at irrationally low prices - while keeping the company's margins intact, of course - just to move stocks. They do this in a number of ways: threatening to terminate contracts if quotas are not met, instigating price wars among distributors, or assigning problem accounts directly to their distributors. It's no wonder that they eventually find themselves in a hole they can't get out of.'

But surely the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) would step in during such instances, right? 'Sadly, no," stated the noted lady lawyer. 'Many distributors have actually filed complaints with the DTI, but they have all received the same reply. Evidently, the agency is fully convinced that cases like these are not within their jurisdiction, if you can believe that.'

The good news is that, according to my reporter-friends, Senator Enrile was especially attentive during Lorna's presentation. Small wonder, considering that Manong Johnny is a principal co-author of Senate Bill No. 3197, or the Anti-Trust Bill. As more legislators hear Atty. Kapunan's invaluable inputs on the topic, this will surely create a critical mass for her crusade.

'Crusade sounds a bit too romantic,' Lorna said with a smile. 'I prefer to think of it as merely standing up for the little guy, and making sure that our fellow Filipinos are not bullied.'

- Domini M. Torrevillas, "Standing up for the little guy", From the Stands, Philippine Star, February 17, 2011

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