Antitrust body wants dawn raids without writ

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THE Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) wants Congress to empower it to conduct dawn raids without a court order, as it bolsters its probe of dishonest or fraudulent rivalry in trade and commerce, according to the agency’s year-end report.

Dawn raids — surprise inspections at business premises to search for evidence of anti-competitive behavior — are expected to improve the agency’s case-building and increase the number of cartel prosecutions, PCC Chairman Arsenio M. Balisacan said in a report released on Friday.

The Supreme Court upheld the competition body’s inspection powers in November, allowing it to conduct dawn raids through orders issued by special commercial courts in the cities of Quezon, Manila, Makati, Pasig, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao and Cagayan De Oro.

Antitrust bodies in some countries are not required to get a court order and only have to secure an inspection decision from the competition authority. Of the 28 European Union member states, half require a court warrant before business premises can be inspected.

Mr. Balisacan said they would also like to raise the fines on erring companies and reinforce the PCC’s “primary, original, and exclusive jurisdiction over all competition cases.”

The PCC said it might also seek to expand its mandate into consumer protection because it complements its work in competition cases.

Competition analysis and enforcement in 2020 will focus on the telecommunications, retail, energy and electricity, transportation, construction, health and pharmaceuticals, and food sectors.

“Our initiatives in these sectors are intended to unlock the economic potential of these industries that have long been protected by regulations,” Mr. Balisacan said.

The commission said it was prioritizing the probe of anti-competitive conduct, making sure violations are detected and prosecuted.

The PCC also plans to analyze sector regulations and market conditions to support their merger reviews and competition enforcement functions. The body will also look at the impact of its decisions as well as the effect of government subsidies on competition.

Mr. Balisacan said that PCC expects to expand its enforcement network through partnerships with its counterparts in Asia-Pacific countries such as the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore and the Hong Kong Competition Commission.

“With the continued rise of populist sentiments and trade frictions, the need for international cooperation and the exchange of knowledge and expertise has become even more urgent,” he said.

The competition body plans to formalize ties with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Intellectual Property Office and Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

Starting August, the commission will adjust its schedule of administrative fines to reflect their real value in the three years after the competition law was enacted.

The Philippine Competition Act was signed into law in 2015 to guard against monopolies and cartels, among other things. — Jenina P. Ibañez