Congress has passed House Bill 78 allowing 100-percent foreign ownership of public utilities such as transportation, communication, and power firms.
At least 136 House members voted yes to HB 78, providing a distinction between how a public service and a public utility are defined under Commonwealth Act 146 or the Public Service Act.
Opposition lawmakers earlier thumbed down the bill.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said House Bill 78, or the proposed New Public Service Act, was “fatally violative” of the 1987 Constitution as it provides that ownership, operation, control and management of public utilities is reserved for Filipino citizens or to corporations at least 60 percent of whose capital is owned by Filipinos.
House Bill 78 limits the definition of public utilities to electricity distribution and transmission, water and sewerage pipelines, air transportation, ports and airports.
Lagman says he sees no distinction between “public utility” and “public service” as the Supreme Court itself said in a 2003 ruling that “public utility is engaged in public service” that provides “basic commodities and services indispensable to the interest of the general public.”
The bill in effect would allow foreigners to fully own public utilities in the Philippines.
While 43 lawmakers, including some allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, voted against the bill, one legislator abstained from the vote.
The measure says that public services are those that are “non-rivalrous or imbued with public interest,” such as marine repair shop, wharf or dock, canal, public market, irrigation system, gas, electric light, heat and power, water supply and power, petroleum, sewerage system, telecommunications system, and wire or wireless communication system.
It limits the definition of public utility to any person or entity that operates, manages or controls for public use the distribution of electricity, transmission of electricity, water pipeline distribution and sewerage pipeline.
It also abandons the 60-40 constitutional rule on foreign ownership.
Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas tagged HB 78 as “economic charter change without tinkering with the 1987 Constitution.”
She hit the bill allowing foreigners to own “critical” public services such as telecommunications and transportation, and that its approval “more or less fulfills the goal of economic charter change without tinkering with the 1987 Constitution.”