MALACAÑANG has no new timeline for the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to select a third telecommunications provider, Presidential Spokesperson Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said.

Speaking to reporters in a briefing at the Palace on Thursday, Mr. Roque said the President has accepted the realities behind the postponement of the selection of a “third player.”

“Whether or not he’s happy, that’s the reality. What can he do? At least he prompted the actual steps to be undertaken leading to the announcement in June. Had he not exercised the political will we would still have bickering from the (telecom industry) duopoly and machinations and orchestrations against the third telecom.”

Asked if there is a new timeline, Mr. Roque said: “The President has no new deadline beyond the one he set for March. That was not met (so the next deadline becomes) as soon as possible.”

The DICT said on Tuesday that the third player may be officially announced by “end of June or early July.”

In her statement on Wednesday, March 21, Senator Mary Grace Natividad S. Poe-Llamanzares, the principal author and sponsor of Senate Bill No. 1754 which seeks to amend Commonwealth Act No. 146 or the Public Service Act of 1936, said: “There would be meaningful competition in the telecommunications sector once the bill becomes law.”

She stressed the need for a law to govern the entry of a third player, or even a fourth or fifth if it should be necessary, “to set the legal basis.”

Ms. Poe, who chairs the committee on public services, said she expects immediate Senate action when sessions resume in May.

“I hope most of our public services are opened up to competition. Meaningful competition will allow more players, domestic and foreign, to slug it out to win the satisfaction of the Filipino people,” she said.

Ms. Poe added that “the 1987 Philippine Constitution restricts operation of a public utility to companies whose ownership is at least 60% Filipino-owned. The antiquated Public Service Act, however, only provides a list and not a definition of public services and no definition of a public utility. Thus, foreign equity restrictions also apply to public utilities like telecommunications, electricity, water and transportation, among others.”

“Currently, electricity (distribution and transmission), water, transportation, telecommunications and other essential services fall under the foreign equity rule mandated by the Constitution. Once the measure is approved, only the electric power distribution and transmission, water pipeline distribution and sewerage pipeline system are restricted.”

The senator said her proposed law “seeks to improve the quality of the goods and services of public service providers and lower the costs of their goods and services at the same time.”

“Companies are expected to provide better services or they will face a fine of up to P5 million per day of violation plus ‘disgorgement of profits’ and additional ‘treble damages.’ The existing law only imposes a measly fine of P200 per day of violation.” — Arjay L. Balinbin