By Charissa Luci-Atienza
A progressive solon strongly urged on Sunday the Duterte administration to nationalize the telecommunications industry, even as he warned that its liberalization would result in higher charges.
Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate made the call as Malacañang is seeking to ease foreign investment limits in the country.
“President Duterte’s statement is now a signal for Congress to rush up the passage of Resolution of Both Houses No. 8 or Charter Change, now unmasked as nothing but mainly to allow foreign ownership of business’ in the country,” he said in a statement.
He noted that the Lower Chamber has passed two bills designed to liberalize the telecommunications sector.
“We voted NO to these bills, because we believe that further liberalization of the telecommunications sector among other strategic services will not result in better services for our people even if China, Malacanang’s preferred investor, or other countries enter the sector,” Zarate said.
“Moreover, Bayan Muna also believes that the government’s role in a utility imbued with public interests like telecommunications should not only be limited to oversight, but instead of a more active participation and control,” he added.
Zarate laments that liberalization and privatization failed to deliver the promised efficient, affordable and good services for the people.
He cited the power industry as an example, which was liberalized and opened up to a “free market” competition, but it has only resulted, he said, to sky-high electricity rates, fifth highest in the world.
The Bayan Muna lawmaker sought the retention of the provisions of House Bill (H.B.) 3876 which was filed last year and which was later included in the substituted H.B. 6557 and H.B. 6558.
The bill seeks to expand the powers of the National Telecommunications Commission to classify short messaging service, and internet services as utilities imbued with public interest.
Zarate withdrew as co-author of the substituted bills because he said “they no longer reflect the objectives for which Bayan Muna filed H.B. 3876, that is, to ensure the interests of the Filipino people in the arena of telecommunications.”
“We filed H.B. 3876 because we intend to echo the call of consumers that government should lead the creation of a national telecommunications and internet infrastructure in order to interconnect the different islands of the country. This is a monumental task and shall need government resources as it would cover areas unprofitable for the telecommunication companies to build its facilities. It challenges our government to nationalize the telecom industry to transform the profit-driven industry into a public utility in its truest sense,” Zarate said.
The measure also increased the fines to be imposed, which is also indexed with inflation to ensure maximum compliance on the side of telecommunication companies and internet service providers.
Zarate took note the removal of provisions for government to develop a national telecommunications and internet infrastructure that will provide, among others, a nationwide interconnection platform among different government offices and local government units.
“The role of government to be a mere regulator of the industry will not suffice to ensure public interest in telecommunications. As long as it is being run to generate profits, if not super profit, the industry will never respond to the needs and interest of the people. The state’s direct participation and control of the industry as an internet and telecom provider would reverse this profit-driven thrust,” he said.
“Our people need faster, more reliable, and more inclusive communications facilities. This will never happen while we are at the mercy and whims of big, private telecommunication networks or telco oligarchs. The state has to advance its economic agenda by taking hold of telecommunications and other basic services,” Zarate said.