THE Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) is urging the public to report companies’ anti-competitive behavior to reduce the risk of businesses taking advantage of the crisis through price fixing.
PCC Enforcement Office Director Orlando P. Polinar said in a phone interview on Monday that he also expects more voluntary compliance from the private sector to follow competition rules.
The commission created a resource page on its website to guide the public and companies on its regulations and mandate.
Mr. Polinar said that it launched the page in support of economic recovery while businesses deal with losses.
“The message here is that firms should not use the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to engage in practices that will undermine market competition and take advantage of consumers who also continue to suffer from financial challenges.”
He said experiences from other jurisdictions show how emergencies and crises lead to a spike in business practices leaning towards collusion and price fixing.
PCC Chairperson Arsenio M. Balisacan in May warned against unchecked price controls that could be used as a reference point for collusion, noting that declining business profits during crises at times fuels collusive behavior.
While temporary cooperation among firms could be beneficial in improving efficiency in producing essential goods, Mr. Balisacan said there is a possibility this may lead to price fixing.
Starting this month, PCC will release enforcement advisories to guide the public on business practices, as well as advisory letters to companies being assessed for possible practices that could violate Philippine competition law prior to a formal inquiry.
The commission’s enforcement office is currently limited in its field work capacity given public health risks. Employees mostly continue their work through technology and interview-based investigations.
Mr. Polinar explained that the online resource page would also guide individuals that have been reporting consumer protection violations, instead of anti-competitive abuse.
The website lists anti-competitive behaviors that could harm consumers, including price fixing, predatory pricing or selling goods below cost to drive out competitors, excessive pricing, bid-rigging, or limiting output.
“Not just despite of the pandemic but especially during the pandemic, there is a need…. to protect consumers from anti-competitive conduct and practices,” he said.
The Trade department said that it saw a spike in online transaction consumer complaints during the lockdown. — Jenina P. Ibañez