By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The Makabayan bloc of the House of Representatives on Thursday (Feb. 20) vowed to block the third and final reading passage of a bill seeking to allow foreigners to own public utilities in the country.
Party-list Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna), France Castro (ACT Teachers), Arlene Brosas (Gabriela), and Sara Jane Elago (Kabataan) scored the Lower Chamber’s passage of House Bill No. 78 or the proposed 2020 Public Service Act on second reading on Tuesday.
“Ang nakita naming panukalang batas ay gustong ikutan ang ating Constitution. Sa ating Constitution, sa Article 12, malinaw doon ‘yung citizenship requirements especially pagdating sa public utilities. Ang public utilities dapat ay nasa effective control ng mga Filipino,” Zarate said.
(What we see is this proposed law seeks to circumvent the Constitution. Our Constitution, specifically Article 12, clearly provides the citizenship requirements as far as public utilities are concerned. Public utilities should be under the effective control of Filipinos.)
He said the bill allows 100 percent foreign ownership of public utilities, except water and power distribution, electricity transmission, and sewerage pipeline operation.
“Kung hindi mag-apply ang citizenship requirement, for example, telecommunication at transportation, ay pwede nang pumasok ang dayuhan,” Zarate said.
(If the citizenship requirement will not apply, for example, foreigners can enter the telecommunication and transportation sectors.)
For her part, Castro expressed hope that such a “harsh” measure will meet strong opposition from the people and the Senate.
“Sana hindi mapayagan ito ng mamamayan. Pagdating sa Senado, sana ito ay harangin din dahil magiging ang epekto nito ay pagbubukas ng Pilipinas sa lahat ng foreign ownership,” she said.
(I hope this will be opposed by the people. When it reaches the Senate, we hope that this will also be blocked because the effect of this is opening up the Philippines to all kinds of foreign ownership.)
Brosas warned that if HB 78 is enacted into law, it will have a huge economic impact. “This is tantamount to foreign ownership, full foreign ownership of media entities, railways, transport systems, telecommunication systems.”
She added, “It is quite ironic that while the government does not want to give a franchise to ABS-CBN because of the alleged presence of foreign entity, House Bill 78 was passed to open up public utilities to full foreign ownership.”
Elago, for her part, said with the passage of HB 78, “the public service in the Philippines is now for sale.” She also noted that larger foreign participation in transportation and telecommunications industries can be considered a “threat” to privacy and a “national security concern.”
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved on second reading HB 78, which seeks to amend the 84-year-old Public Service Act. Under the bill, “public utility” refers strictly to electricity distribution, electricity transmission, water pipeline operation, or sewerage pipeline system.
Under the measure, unless otherwise provided by law or by any international agreement, a public service shall employ a foreign national only after the determination of the non-availability of a Philippine national.
The bill provides that no foreign national shall be allowed to own capital stock of any public service classified as a public utility prior the passage of this proposed act, unless the country of such foreign national accords reciprocal rights to Philippine nationals as may be provided by foreign law, treaty, or international agreement.