Press Release
December 15, 2021

Amending the Public Service Act
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto

Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

First, let me apologize to Her Grace, the good Senator Poe, for keeping her in plenary way past our usual adjournment time last night.

Little did I know that it made her late to her yearly date with a patriot - her father, FPJ, whose death anniversary the nation marked with affection yesterday.

Da King would have understood, and in fact will be beaming with pride, as her daughter had the perfect excuse - of doing overtime work in the service of the people.

So the sight of her caressing the tomb of the Man Who Would Have Been Our President, on the night she won the toughest debates on a law, to my mind composes this perfect caption:

Legacy of great men lives. But some laws are meant to be interred.

The debates yesterday capped the long last rites on an 85-year-old bill.

When the PSA was enacted in 1936, it governed public services whose technology was cutting-edge then—but are museum relics now.

Telephone calls had to pass through operators manually punching switchboards. The fastest way across the Pacific was a six-day hop on islands aboard a plane which landed on water.

"Rush" telegrams were composed in Morse to be transmitted on wires. An ice plant was a franchised public service like the one in Lawton which blasted the 4:00PM siren, birthing the famous saying "mabilis pa sa alas-kuwatro".

Technological advances should have prompted regulatory obsolescence. But laws have always been behind innovation.

But the PSA is so far behind. It is three-quarters of a century behind the curve.

There is no debate that there have been developments in commerce and civilization, which have rendered parts of the PSA obsolete.

A law crafted during the pre-War years when colonial powers have partitioned the world cannot serve as a rulebook in an age when technology has changed the world and nations have rewritten the rules in doing business.

But while the law's many provisions have become outdated, some principles which underpin them remain valid: the superiority of public interest over private profit, to cite one example.

Yes, we should court foreign investment, aggressively even, and roll out the red carpet for them. But we should delineate red lines which should not be crossed.

Yes, we should delist many industries from the current roster of public utilities, so that with the restrictive ownership requirements lifted, foreign capital can come in.

But we cannot do it in wholesale fashion in selecting which, and not in a manner that so liberalizes the entry of foreign investments that it restrains government from conducting review and oversight.

Most of the time, I fully agree with the sponsor on what should be placed in the public services box and what should be in the public utility box.

I argued for some critical industries to be retained in the public utility box, and thus be subjected to the 60 percent Filipino ownership rule.

When the house was divided, I lost the vote on some, but was comforted by the thought that I was not by my lonesome as the count showed that sometimes the voting was a close one.

I still do maintain that there are industries which should remain majority owned by Filipinos, as they are too vital to our national life that they cannot be totally relinquished without triggering national security concerns.

I just hope that the protocols this bill provides—subjecting to automatic review foreign ownership bids on public service enterprises—will kick in, not just to vet, but also to veto, when these are injurious to the nation.

My being pro-investment does not extend to the total surrender of ownership of critical industries to foreigners.

This is not nationalist sloganeering. But I believe that majority ownership of industries whose service they provide are so vital for human survival that they have been treated as human rights, like water and internet, should remain in Filipino hands.

I thank the sponsor for accepting the reciprocity clause, because investment privileges should, like love, be requited.

I thank her for concurring with my proposal that "any certificate authorizing the operation, management or control of a public service shall only be issued to corporations, partnerships, associations or joint stock companies that are constituted and organized under the laws of the Philippines."

One other amendment which has also made it to the final copy is of a foreign-owned enterprise being defined as an entity, in which a foreign state which directly or indirectly owns more than 50 percent of the capital taking into account both the voting rights and beneficial ownership.

I close my speech with the hope that the incoming Senate upholds our tradition of debating bills of national import, substantially and not simulated, never sacrificing scrutiny for speed, never trading examination for expediency, because this is how great laws are made.

And I will also honor one tradition our predecessors have practiced - of being honest if one does not agree with a bill, to vote "NO" when one is not in accord.

I so vote Mr. President.

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