Senators say expropriation ‘more harmful’; telcos hobbled by ‘slow’ gov’t action

Published July 28, 2020, 3:21 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Tuesday warned against expropriating telecommunication properties as this may cause more harm.

Senate Ralph Recto (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Recto believes that “government expropriation is not the solution” to improve telecommunication services in the country. 

“Government has a terrible record in operating telecoms,” the Senate leader said in a text message.

President Duterte, in his State of the Nation Address on Monday, threatened to take the properties of telecommunication companies (telcos) PLDT Smart and Globe Telecom should they fail to address their “less-than-ideal” services. Duterte gave the telcos until December to shape up.

Recto, however, believed that encouraging competition in the telecommunication industry “is the way forward”.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan also rejected Duterte’s threat.

“Threatening telcos with expropriation after shutting down the largest media network while displaying sheer government incompetence and failure in managing the COVID-19 response will only scare foreign and local investors from doing business in the Philippines and further hampers our economic recovery,” the opposition senator said in a separate message.

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services panel, meanwhile, acknowledged that “frustration is growing by the day for fast, affordable and reliable internet service, which has become a necessity as people rely more on digital technologies amid the pandemic.”

She noted, however, that the improvement of internet service and coverage will not be possible by merely obligating the telcos to shape up.

“Pertinent national agencies and local government units should step up so that the approval of at least 25 regulatory permits for the construction of cell towers will not take six months,” she pointed out.

“Both government and telcos should work double time to give our millions of Filipinos better and cheaper connectivity by the end of the year. We expect them to act with urgency and sense of duty for the sake of our people,” she added.

The country currently has three major telecommunication players, Smart, Globe and the Dennis Uy-owned Dito Telecommunity, which was supposed to start its initial rollout this month.

Dito, however, also faced delays in offering its services. As of July 1, the new telco only has 300 operational cell towers, out of its target 1,300 to cover 37 percent of the country’s population by this month.

During a recent Senate hearing of the public services committee, the telcos lamented that constructing a single cell tower takes them six to nine months due to the tedious process of securing permits from local government units and concerned agencies.