THE PHILIPPINE Competition Commission (PCC) said the recent Supreme Court (SC) ruling that authorizes commercial courts to conduct inspection orders on business premises for anti-competitive behavior will bolster its investigation tools.

This implementation of the Rule on Administrative Search and Inspection under the Philippine Competition Act on Nov. 16 will give PCC power to conduct dawn raids, it said in a statement.

This means that deputized agents can “enter, search, and inspect business premises, offices, land and vehicles to examine, copy, photograph, record or print information in order to prevent their removal, concealment, tampering with or destruction.”

PCC said this bolsters their investigations of anti-competitive behavior such as cartels and abuse of dominance.

“Cartels operate on clandestine arrangements or so-called gentleman’s agreements that ultimately affect prices and hurt consumer welfare.” PCC Chair Arsenio M. Balisacan said.

“With the rules on dawn raids now in place, this will intensify PCC’s case-building, uncover anticompetitive behavior, and pin down such white-collar crimes covered by the Philippine Competition Act.”

The SC decision allows inspection orders to be issued if the commercial court finds reasonable grounds to suspect that information sought is stored or accessible at the premises indicated in the application.

Applications for an inspection order are to be acted upon within 24 hours from filing.

Information that can be inspected during dawn raids include books, tax records, documents, papers, accounts, letters, photographs, databases, means of accessing information contained in such databases, and electronically stored information.

Commercial courts in Quezon City, Manila, Makati, Pasig, Cebu City, Iloilo City, Davao City, and Cagayan de Oro City can issue inspection orders that are enforceable nationwide.

PCC said that special commercial courts will have concurrent jurisdiction within their respective territorial jurisdictions.

Persons or entities that refuse to comply with an inspection order may be fined, imprisoned, or both under a contempt of court charge.

“The PCC extends its profound thanks to the Supreme Court for strengthening our armory of investigative tools to detect, investigate and prosecute anti-competitive agreements and conduct. The rules strike a balance between due process and public interest in enforcing the competition law,” Mr. Balisacan said. — Jenina P. Ibañez