Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Anti-trust issues fester

"Anti-trust issues fester"
by Willie S. Baun
Originally published on 08 March 2011, People's Journal, STREETLIGHTS, p. 4
Also available online here.

"WHENEVER a mall opens in a sleepy town, the local community is normally drawn to imaginings of bustling economic activity, hopefully jobs as well, including small businesses in the vicinity linking with the mall to supply it with backdoor goods and services.

But what if the mall owners and operators were a bunch of bullies only out to dominate the local market, or even drive smaller enterprises out of business? Or plague their suppliers with delayed payments and oppress their employees to meet unrealistic production targets?

What then if not just like the small town the Philippines were viewed as such by some giant multinational companies with absolutely no intention, apparently, to be apostles of fair trade helping to grow the domestic economy?

Noted lawyer and anti-trust advocate Lorna Patajo Kapunan has shown the MNC-victimized Filipino entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprise owners, and employees they can fight back – if only to arouse the government to look at their desperate straits.

This was brought to light recently when a client of Kapunan filed a case of predatory pricing and unfair trade practices against a Swiss food and beverage multinational. The client actually was a group of the distributors allegedly driven to bankruptcy by the MNC’s violation of free-market standards.

The group went straight to the Department of Trade and Industry for redress of numerous grievances only to be told, at the end of tedious documentations, that their case was ultra vires, “not within DTI jurisdiction.”

Admittedly, state agencies were at a loss about which bureau has jurisdiction of such cases, not to mention that the penalties for anti-trust and monopolistic conduct are “laughably negligible,” according to Kapunan.

Thankfully, relief is in sight of the distributors and similarly situated small businessmen. Parallel to relevant Senate measures, House Bill 1980 has been filed by Reps. Jack Ponce-Enrile, Rufus by Rodriguez, and (whadyanno?) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

HB 1980 seeks to stiffly penalize “anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant power and anti-competitive mergers” and above all, the “establishment of the Philippine Fair Competition Commission.”

In virtual leap from immunity of restraints in trade, the bill threatens the MNC bullies with up to P750-million in fines if found to be in violation of anti-trust regulations.

Moreover, a fine shall be imposed in an amount double the gross proceeds gained by the violators or double the gross loss suffered by the plaintiffs. Damn right, Jose, from a nation of MNC-dependent distributors, the enactment of HB 1980 into law would call for standing ovation.

Kapunan and her clients, of course, deserve a big applause that, I believe, is bound to strike a resonant chord in the Senate and among the hundreds of thousands of small and medium entrepreneurs all over the country."

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