(Remarks at the 1stNational Competition Conference, Philippine
International Convention Center, Manila,
Philippines; 09 December
And thank you for inviting me to participate in today’s discussion on “Competition
Policy and Regional Economic Integration”. Indeed, prevalent in today’s mind
would be the subject of ASEAN integration. As it should.
Withcountries touted as interconnected and technology
perpetually advancing, nevertheless, most international
trade remain affected significantly by geography. And thus
ASEAN will always play, should always play, an important part in the
formulation of Philippine economic policy.
Competition policy is said to constitute
a vital cog leading up to ASEAN integration by 2015.
And members are “endeavored” to introduce competition policy and legislation by
that year to “ensure a level playing field and to foster a culture of fair
business competition for enhanced regional economic performance in the long run.”
It is worth exploring, however, the
thought that before the Philippines indeed contribute to enhancing regional economic performance that its
own economic interests – both in the short and long term – be solidified. And
perhaps it is in that light that we best look at
competition policy and legislation.
The trouble with assumptions
One fundamental problem
with present discussions on competition law is the implicit reliance on this one
assumption: monopolies are bad and government is the solution. But note, not
even our Constitution see monopolies with that perspective: 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.” (italics supplied)
As my own newspaper BusinessWorld reported (Competition Law Urged, 28 August 2013)
on the East Asia Forum on competition law, the consensus seemed to be that “a
competition policy is considered important for a country to grow and consider
itself an advanced economy.” Furthermore, “competition law should also be
separated from politically motivated industrial policy as the latter allows the
government to choose which industries to champion instead of letting natural
competition occur in the market.”
Urging must be made to re-examine
the assumptions on which such assertions are made. It is not dogma that
monopolies are inefficient and stifles innovation. And because of the way
today’s economic system is, with globalization and technology, the probability
of a new entrant, whether locally or elsewhere, breaking in will always serve
as an impetus to improve products or services.
Even claims related to
predatory pricing need not go unexamined. Predatory pricing can work if the
“predator” is willing (and able) to suffer deep financial losses and even then
such would only be effective if the market itself is inundated with regulations
that exempt, protect, subsidize current players.
Even declarations like
“all advanced economies have a competition policy” should be rendered suspect.
Simply because we’re not an “advanced economy”. Not yet anyway. Which should
tell you a lot about the wisdom of importing and imposing a regulatory
framework tailored for countries whose circumstances are not similar to the
Indeed, the logic of the
foregoing assumptions seems to be is that to further regulate the market will
set it free. But we’ve known from trade policy history that such never benefits
consumers and that protectionism has generally harmed the economy. And we’ve
known from trade policy history that monopolies are created precisely because
of regulations: that such regulations before had to do with tariff barriers and
subsidies and now identified as monitoring and review really is of no
A question of necessity
And then, there is the question of necessity. Or, more accurately, the
degrees thereof. At the outset, let us get this straight: to agree to
“endeavor” to have a competition law by 2015 does not mean we should have a
competition law by 2015. The only deadline the Philippines must consider at
this stage is its own interests and the welfare of its people.
Reference has been made (here and elsewhere) of the 2014 Economic
Freedom Index. As its name indicates, the Heritage Foundation’s study measures
a country’s openness to trade, economic mobility, and prosperity.
The Philippines is currently ranked 89 (out of 186 countries), although
the same is said to be an improvement by 1.9 points. Amongst Asia-Pacific
countries, the Philippines placed 16th out of 42. Overall, the Philippines is
considered “slightly below the world average” or “moderately free”.
Of particular interest is the Index’s category of “Rule of Law”. For the
Philippines: “Corruption and cronyism are rife in business and government, with
a few dozen leading families holding an outsized share of wealth and political
power. Judicial independence has traditionally been strong, but the rule of law
is generally weak. A culture of impunity, stemming in part from a case backlog
in the judicial system, hampers the fight against corruption. Delays and
uncertainty negatively affect property rights.” In this regard, it is to be
noted that as of 2010, Vietnam has overtaken the Philippines in terms of
lessened corruption and is currently three ranks higher.
The Economic Freedom Index goes on to discuss ease of doing business or
“regulatory efficiency”, noting that in the Philippines “launching a business
takes 15 procedures and 35 days.”
The foregoing makes informative reading when set alongside the World
Economic Forum’s 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Index.
The Philippines certainly made improvements, ranking 52 out of 144
countries. However, the data seems to give the impression of the huge role that
the private sector played in our improved ranking.
One can see this in our high scores in “business sophistication” and
market size (which perhaps can be related to the fact that the Index declares
our population to be at 97.5 million, with a substantial chunk of that, it must
be added, belonging to the youth sector – more on this later). High scores in
innovation and financial market complement this.
However, what is telling are the areas where the Philippines rank lowest:
infrastructure, corruption, health and primary education, ease of starting a
business, inefficient bureaucracy, and wage
determination, hiring and firing procedures, and redundancy costs.
The media trumpets
Philippine improvement in one pillar: “institutions”
(rank: 67, formerly 79). But even then, when broken down, one
sees that it is private institutions that gave us that higher score (at 48),
with public institutions at 75. Two additional figures worth noting in this
regard: judicial independence (77) and transparency in
policymaking at 85 (and which probably highlights why a Freedom of Information
Law can help attain better competitiveness for the country).
Nevertheless, the undoubted key for whatever prospects that may open to
the Philippines is in education. There is one striking Philippine statistic
that everyone should be aware of and that is in the area of demographics:
Filipinos 30 years old and below comprise around 70% of the population (with
those below 14 years at 35%, with the median age at 22.9 years old). Those at
65 years old comprise only about 4.1%. The future of this country quite simply
depends on how well that 70% is educated.
In this regard, let us take note of The Times Higher Education World
University Rankings 2014-2015, which declares itself to be “the only global
university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of
their core missions - teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international
outlook. The top universities rankings employ 13 carefully calibrated
The usual suspects are there: Cambridge and Princeton definitely (as well
as some school called Oxford). From the Asian region, the list is filled with
Japanese, Singaporean, Hong Kong, South Korean, Taiwanese, Indian, Israeli,
Turkish, Saudi Arabia, and Thai schools.
And yet (although one is free to ignore the rankings for whatever
excuse) not one of our schools joined the list of top universities. Not even in
the “looser” Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, which is based
on “nothing more than subjective judgment”.
Relate the foregoing with
recent figures indicating that teenage pregnancy in this country rose by 70% in
the past 10-year period (114,205 in 1999 to 195,662 in 2009). 2010 figures show
206,574 of such pregnancies. Data from the National Youth Commission show that
the Philippines is third highest in Southeast Asia and among the highest in the
ASEAN region and the only country where such number is increasing.
Furthermore, of the almost 3 million Filipinos currently unemployed, 48.2% are within the 15-24 age group, with 29.9% from
those 25-34 years old. Most of them are high school graduates.
Also disconcertingly, 13-14% of all registered marriages are among
teenagers below 20 years old while. On
the other hand, perhaps not coincidentally, there is also a rise in annulment cases
(records indicate a 100% increase in the past 10 years). Add to that the
increasing incidences of rape.
Why are these numbers important in relation to our economy? Because the
basic economic unit and source of productivity are people. And nothing develops
people better than a strong family unit.
Potrykus and Fagan tell us that: “It is worth emphasizing that though economic
production generally, and growth particularly involve three components,
economic enterprise is a human activity. Human beings, by the measure of growth
accounting, contribute over half of what is valuable to production. Only one
third of growth may be attributed to non-human, physical capital. Domestic
production is affected massively by the human component’s contribution.”
It bears worth pointing out that despite ASEAN integration being
packaged as turning ASEAN into one big “production base”, the Philippines
nevertheless is also hinging its strategy on expanding our services industry.
But services require people. And people need to be educated and trained.
To further press the matter,
while the Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index recognized the importance
trade, financial and tax system, and the rule of law as drivers of
competitiveness, the biggest driver of competitiveness and economic growth is,
you guessed it, a country’s people: “the
availability of high quality human talent will always remain in the top set of
And this is
key for the Philippines: “Demographics,
more specifically aging populations, will have a significant impact on market
attractiveness over the coming decades, with some nations like Japan, and even
China, despite its large population, significantly inhibited by their aging
populations and others, including the U.S. with favorable population age
demographics gaining the upper hand as time passes.”
foregoing, which are clearly urgent matters all, are to be addressed by a
competition law is something that needs further examination.
Competition Law? Maybe.
At this point, perhaps it’s best to state some
caveats: do we need a competition law? Yes. But we need one that will work effectively
for the interests of Filipinos. And the measure of its importance tells us that
we better not be too eager in passing such legislation.
And indeed, when we say that we want to foster better competition then
we better address the question: competition for whom? And competition where?
on a substantive level, and inasmuch as he pulled me to the punch in saying it,
then I might as well borrow the words of Teddy Boy Locsin (in his 04 September
2014 “Teditorial”): “If the anti-competition law seeks to stop giant local companies from
keeping local competition down and foreign competition out, then that law is a
yes. But if seeks to break up local giants now dominating the local market and
getting a lion’s share of a cash rich country after beating the foreigners who
were taking all the money long ago, then it is a big, fat no.”
If we say better
competition to benefit our consumers, then we have to remember that our consumers
need money to consume. Which they can’t do if they’re unemployed or
underemployed. Which means that they need companies, preferably Filipino
companies, succeeding and succeeding well not only in the Philippines but also
in an ASEAN integration and beyond.
Ultimately, size is
relative and what may seem like giants in our neighborhood that is the
Philippines may actually be puny when placed in regional and global arenas.
Consequently, the size of
our market should lead us to appreciate the idea of “natural monopolies,”
whereby maximum efficiency is derived by way of economies of scale through one
or two suppliers.
As such, Filipinos should
be supportive of even larger Filipino conglomerates. Take any as example and
one would see that despite their size and reach, could not really be considered
possessing monopoly power due to the nature and threat presented by global (or
Again, Teddy Boy Locsin
gets it remarkably right: “Big is better if it is Filipino because capital has
a nationality” but “big is bad if it is foreign, which will destroy what we
have, milk it by big bonuses, siphon profits abroad, and make sure no Filipino
ever gets big again. If foreign competition wants to break up Filipino giants,
let the free market do it. Do not make a Filipino law tailor-made for
foreigners do the job for them. Foreign competition does not believe in
Filipino competition in their home countries. It only believes in foreign
competition here and elsewhere abroad.”
That is why questions on
the need to regulate mergers through a competition law at this point are with
merit. Not all countries with competition laws even have provisions on merger
regulation. As Lisa Campbell,
Senior Deputy Commissioner, of the Canadian Competition Bureau, remarked: “the
size of a business, even one that dominates a particular market, is not in an
of itself, a cause for concern. Businesses may need to become large to achieve
lower production costs or to compete against foreign
and domestic competitors.” (International Antitrust Forum Fifth Annual Chicago Forum on
International Antitrust Issues, June 12-13, 2014)
Further on the substantive,
we know that a government-managed competition will not result in free
competition. We know that doing so results in inefficiency. Instead, at this
point, the best competition policy that we could advance would simply be to
strictly enforce the rule of law. The many many laws that we already have now.
Instead, if we must have a
competition law by next year, then let it include provisions on the possibility
of foreign corporations sneaking up in acquiring Filipino companies or
influence to the point that monopoly powers are exercised from beyond Philippine
jurisdiction, constricting Filipino entrepreneurial efforts, and damaging local
consumer interests. And let us explore more vigorously the idea of implementing
the “effects” doctrine as a manner of acquiring jurisdiction over those who
seek to damage Philippine economic interests from abroad.
One last point on the
substantive: if we must have a competition law then why are the competition law
drafts essentially similar in text to foreign competition laws? To have
influences is understandable but that is not the point. US laws are worded
generally, for example, but that is so because the core provisions were made a
century ago. But that was followed by more than a hundred years of US
jurisprudence (plus that of Europe and Japan) that we should have learned from
and could have been inputted into the draft competition law, thus giving the
same more depth and precision.
At the institutional
level, I invite everyone to peruse BizNewsAsia’s 01 December 2014 issue. There
it reiterates a fact that every economist and policymaker knows: the
Philippines has “24 million families and 100 million people.” And yet,
political and economic power has been held only by a select few. With that,
“since 1962, the country has deteriorated, from Asia’s richest to being the
region’s economic laggard.”
I mention that because
indeed, another area we need to look at is the connection that competition
policy has with corruption, and thus, relatedly, the need to constrain the
ill-effects of having both political and economic power held by a select number
of families in the country, which is something that even the latest drafts of
our competition laws seem to ignore.
Because, what is the point
of having trade commissions, legal procedures, and the like if in the end the
judged and the judge are from the same side of the fence? Competition laws work
in the US and Europe as the people who lead in business would not be the same
people who comprise government, thus serving as a check upon each other. While
undoubtedly relationships exists between the two groups in any country, that is
a far cry from having the same families actually in control of both business
In conclusion --
I should wrap up here
before I exceed your patience (if I had not done so already!).
Competition policy and law
are definitely important. But they are not panaceas. And like everything else,
they would need a certain context to have any positive effect.
In this regard, we must
consider that competition-wise we are not as ramshackle as others would have us
believe. The Global Competitiveness Index gave us good
marks for “intensity of local competition” (61), “prevalence of trade barriers”
(51), and “prevalence of foreign ownership” (51). And studies (such as Ajit Singh’s) suggest that
consider “optimal” degrees of competition rather than maximum
competition as apt for a developing country economy (such as the Philippines’).
Contrast this with the scantiness
of our resources and experience, administratively and judicially, that are necessary
to implement a competition law. Couple this with the abundant reliance on
outside analysis that may not have thoroughly considered the peculiarities of
On this point I agree
there is a huge need to develop competition advocacy: the thorough education of
both Bench and Bar, and the eventual creation of experienced and trained
competition and consumer champions.
From years of policymaking
we know that if there’s a thing that the ruling sector wants immediately
accomplished, with zero fuss, then generally it’s best to make a fuss about it.
It is precisely at such moments that time for further study becomes a
In relation to crafting
our competition law, the same thought should apply considering the profound
effect it will have on the country’s economy and Filipino lives.