HB 78: Downsizing government in the Delivery of public service

Whose interests are the Members of the House of Representatives serving?  Interests of the citizenry or the interests of the big foreign service providers?

One cannot avoid raising this question when one takes a closer look at House Bill 78, a bill which  the chamber’s majority passed with indecent haste.  The bill is a clever ploy to amend the Constitutional provision limiting to Filipino citizens or corporations (at least 60 per cent owned by Filipinos) the operation  and management of public utilities (Sec 11, Article XII). 

The amendment is done in three seemingly simple steps.  First, HB 78 tries to differentiate a “public service” from a “public utility” by defining “public utility” as a mere subset of the bigger universe of “public services”.  Then, HB 78 limits a public utility to only two major areas: transmission and distribution of electricity and water and sewerage pipeline systems. And finally, HB 78 lifts the nationality restriction on  the ownership, operation, management and control of all other public services.   

HB opens up wide the entire public sector – 100 per cent — to foreign investors seeking to exploit the lucrative business of operating and managing infrastructures needed to carry out the business  of delivering basic public services.  The old Public Services Act defines a “public service” to include “every person that now or hereafter may own, operate, manage, or control in the Philippines, for hire or compensation, with general or limited clientele, whether permanent, occasional or accidental, and done for general business purposes, any common carrier, railroad, street railway, traction railway, sub-way motor vehicle, either for freight or passenger, or both with or without fixed route and whether may be its classification, freight or carrier service of any class, express service, steamboat or steamship line, pontines, ferries, and water craft, engaged in the transportation of passengers or freight or both, shipyard, marine railways, marine repair shop, [warehouse] wharf or dock, ice plant, ice-refrigeration plant, canal, irrigation system, gas, electric light, heat and power, water supply and power, petroleum, sewerage system, wire or wireless communications system, wire or wireless broadcasting stations and other similar public services.”

Under HB 78, the coverage of the public services sector has become unlimited.  The sector includes public markets, transport systems,  power generation, water supply, education, media, hospitals, fore care, environmental protection, waste management, telecommunications, internet services and so on.   Even military and social services can be commodified under the proposed HB 78. 

Completely forgotten by the HB78 proponents is the philosophy on why governments worldwide

develop and protect public services and public utilities, that is, to serve ALL members of the community or society AT LEAST COST or NON-PROFITABLE way.  As President Rodrigo Duterte blurted out in his rants against Manila Water and Maynilad, public  service is not a commodity and should not be commodified.  

Instead of liberalizing the operations of public utilities and those providing basic public services, governments put all these utilities and services under government control and protect them from foreign and local monopolists.  There are clear economic and social risks to the country when these utilities and services are offered to big foreign investors. 

We say NO to HB 78! No to commodification of public utilites and public services!  Interests of the citizenry first!  Assert Philippine economic sovereignty at all times!