A PHILIPPINE Competition Commission (PCC) official said offering immunity to more than two parties can give the regulator “game-changing” leverage in prosecuting cartels.
“If you’re going to ask me it should be more than two. It’s really a statutory review,” Stella Luz A. Quimbo, one of the antitrust body’s commissioners told reporters on the sidelines of a competition workshop for lawyers on Thursday in Manila.
The commission is considering rules that will grant immunity to two parties in a cartel, in exchange for giving evidence against the other members. The rules will expand the offer of immunity provided for in competition law.
The commissioner was responding to a question on why the agency limits the offer to two parties when, according to Ms. Quimbo, “most” jurisdictions allow unlimited beneficiaries.
She said the language of Republic Act 10667 or the Philippine Competition Act of 2015 implies only one to be guaranteed leniency and that the PCC adopted a more liberal reading of the law.
She added amendments might be needed to accommodate the view that more offers of immunity need to be made.
Ms. Quimbo added: “You don’t know exactly what the size of the cartel is… What if you have a cartel with six members. Maybe there will be more than two that are willing [to share information].
“Of course we should be open to going beyond two, not put a limit. It would give us some flexibility,” she added, noting that the PCC board has not discussed pushing for any kind of amendment.
Nevertheless, she said the current arrangement proposed in the draft rules for the immunity program is “workable.”
“Of course right now we see it as a weakness when we compare it with other jurisdictions. We see it as a plausible limitation but will it actually be a limitation? We don’t know. Because again it could be different in the Philippines. So it would be best to test the program before we talk about amendments,” Ms. Quimbo added.
The program grants individuals involved in a cartel immunity from suit and a reduction of fines. The measure is meant to encourage testimony against cartels.
At present, several cases involving the cement, power, garlic and rice industries have been lodged with the PCC and are in the preliminary or administrative phase of investigation.
Ms. Quimbo said the immunity program is a “potential game-changer” in speeding up investigations into cartels.
“In many jurisdictions the reason for why they have all of a sudden increased their cartel enforcement is because of the introduction of a leniency program,” Ms. Quimbo added.
The draft rules for the immunity offers will be up for public consultation on Nov. 26.
The PCC hopes to implement the system before the year ends. — Janina C. Lim