by Butch Fernandez
Published 18 May 2011 in Business Mirror
(Original article available online here)
"The Senate moved to speed up floor deliberations on a new Anti-Trust Law that its chief proponent, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, said would add more “fangs” to existing regulations, penalizing unfair trade and uncompetitive practices, including cartels, monopolies, abuse of dominant position, predatory pricing, bid-rigging and price-fixing.
“This [new Anti-Trust Law] will bite; it has fangs,” Enrile told editors and reporters of the BusinessMirror, the Philippines Graphic and dwIZ in a breakfast press conferences on Wednesday.
Enrile explained that the proposed Competition Act of 2011, embodied in Senate Bill (SB) 1 that he and Senators Ralph Recto and Antonio Trillanes IV co-authored, was meant to plug gaps in the existing Anti-Trust law, which, Enrile noted, was “not as sharp.”
According to Enrile, a consolidated bill, incorporating related proposals filed by other senators, is due to be reported by Sen. Manuel Villar, chairman of the Committee on Trade and Commerce, for floor deliberations next week.
Apart from penalizing unfair trade and anti-competitive practices in restraint of trade, unfair competition and abuse of dominant power, SB 1 also seeks to strengthen the powers of regulatory authorities to go after violators, with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as its chief enforcers.
As proposed by Enrile, persons found violating the law face fines ranging from P10 million to P50 million, while erring companies would be fined from P250 million to P750 million, plus 10-year imprisonment.
The proposed legislation also gives regulatory agencies the power to impose fines ranging from a minimum of P100, 000 to P5 million (for a person) and from P5 million to P50 million (for a company) for each violation.
Under the bill, the DOJ and the DTI shall, on their own, initiate preliminary inquiries to enforce the law upon filing of a verified complaint by an interested party.
The bill, however, also sought to protect confidentiality of information submitted in connection with the enforcement of the law, by providing that any document submitted or marked confidential by the DOJ, relevant to an investigation, shall not be disclosed, published, copied or disseminated. It also includes immunity from suit to any firm or person who will cooperate with authorities and give information to the DOJ.
“Our people have been victims to big business. It behooves the Senate to provide protection to our people against price manipulators,” Enrile said in his explanatory note to the bill. “In a volatile economic situation, such as that which we are experiencing now, it is not very difficult to imagine how artificial prices in one or two commodities is able to directly or indirectly raise the prices of related goods and services.”
Enrile cited Article XII, Section 19, of the Constitution, which provides that “the State shall regulate or prohibit monopolies when the public interest so requires. No combinations in restraint of trade or unfair competition shall be allowed.”
“As proof of the importance of this Constitutional mandate, Section 22 of the same article encourages the promulgation of legislation that would impose civil and criminal sanctions against those who circumvent or negate this principle,” the senator said. “Hence, Section 22 of the Constitution provides: “Acts which circumvent or negate any of the provisions of this article shall be considered inimical to the national interest and subject to criminal and civil sanctions, as may be provided by law.”
While previous legislations have been passed pursuant to this Constitutional mandate, Enrile noted “the increased deviousness and complexity of schemes in perpetuating monopolies in the free-market landscape necessitates an equally sophisticated legislation that would effectively address this concern.”
“Generally, this bill penalizes combinations or conspiracies in restraint of trade and all forms of artificial machinations that will injure, destroy or prevent free-market competition,” Enrile added."