Duterteâs threat to expropriate telcos baseless â advocacy group
In a statement, the group expressed alarm over the recent threat of Duterte to expropriate the two companies, saying that it does not find any compelling reason for the government to resort to the drastic measure of taking over Smart and Globe.
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Duterte’s threat to expropriate telcos baseless — advocacy group
Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte’s threat to “expropriate” the country’s telecommunications giants Globe and PLDT is baseless and would violate the Constitution, according to   advocacy group Tagapagtanggol ng Watawat.

In a statement, the group expressed alarm over the recent threat of  Duterte to  expropriate the two companies, saying that it does not find any compelling reason for the government to resort to the drastic measure of taking over Smart and Globe.

Arnel Valeña, the group’s spokesperson and convenor, said Duterte’s mere dissatisfaction with the “less-than-ideal service that the public is getting” from Smart and Globe, including aborted calls, is not enough to justify a  government takeover.

Valeña cited Article XII, Section 17 of the Constitution, which says that the state is authorized to “temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.”

This may be done only “in times of national emergency, when the public interest so requires.”

“We are not aware of any emergency and do not find any compelling reason for the government to resort to the drastic measure of taking over Smart and Globe,” Valeña said.

“Even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, we do not think it is in the interest of the public to jeopardize telecommunications services and cause unnecessary uncertainty to the people who are now forced to rely on online commerce, work-from-home setups and distance learning,” he said.

With the government already preoccupied with the pandemic, Valeña said the group does not feel assured that it has what it takes to “avoid disrupting the people’s ability to communicate and access information and worsening the problems we have with slow internet speeds and poor signal reception.”

He said Duterte even acknowledged that shutting down the telecommunications operations of Smart and Globe would mean that “we revert back to the line telephone.”

Valeña said this would reverse decades of technological advancement that has become an unavoidable necessity for people nowadays.

“This injury to public interest may already be seen in the non-renewal of the broadcasting franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation, which deprived far-flung areas of much-needed information and diversion amid the pandemic. It is against the principles and spirit of the Constitution to thwart the development and operation of such a vital industry for flimsy and arbitrary reasons that could be addressed by regular methods,” he said.

A government takeover of Smart and Globe would also give third telco player Dito Telcommunity, owned by businessman Dennis Uy and state-owned China Telecom, undue advantage over the market, according to the group.

“We also note that if the government were to take over Smart and Globe, the only private competitor left would be Dito Telecommunity, the company of President Duterte’s campaign financier Dennis Uy, which is currently being built up as the third telco player,” it said.

The group said expropriation should be reserved as a last resort for exceptional circumstances, or “the fickleness of the government itself would be seen as the very obstacle to the investment that it has strived to attract.”

It also said bureaucratic and regulatory issues have consistently hampered the construction of new cell sites that could have improved reception.

“The state ought to flex its regulatory muscle and exercise all reasonable means first to enable, as well as compel, the telecommunications companies to improve their services. It should not expect recurring issues to be resolved in a snap without proper intervention and regulation. We have not seen any sufficient efforts by the government in that regard,” the group said.

Duterte, during his State of the Nation Address last week, called out Globe and Smart to improve their services by December or he “might just as well close all of you and we revert back to line telephone.”

Former Department of Information and Communications Technology undersecretary Eliseo Rio said in a recent Facebook post, however, pointed out that the real problem is not the lack of investment from the telcos, but the red-tape which only the government can solve.

He said the red-tape problem is real and is not being made as an excuse by the telcos because they do not want to invest more money on their infrastructure.

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