Top legal teams gang up on auto workers union

Published February 18, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Legal teams from the country’s top law firms are ganging up on domestic labor union Philippine Metalworkers Alliance (PMA) stressing the workers are not domestic automotive manufacturers and therefore have no authority and personality to represent the local industry in the safeguard measure case imposed by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which sought to stop the surge in the importation of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles into the country that caused serious injury to  the Philippine motor vehicle industry and automotive jobs.

Top caliber law firms that represented the giant car companies and their local distributors questioned PMA, a national alliance of steel and metal unions and organizations, for “misrepresenting” the industry at today’s preliminary conference by the Tariff Commission (TC) on the conduct of formal investigation on the merits of imposing a definitive safeguard duty on importations of motor vehicles passenger cars and light commercial vehicles AHTN 2019 Headings 87.03 and 87.04 pursuant to Section 9 of RA 8800 Investigation No. TCI SG No. SG 2021 OC-Motor Vehicles.

MB file

Atty. Rodolf Britanico, a representative of China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products raised the issue of jurisdiction on the part of the petitioner PMA in the imposition of safeguard measure on imported cars and light commercial vehicles. He asked if the union is “armed with the power of attorney” of all the vehicle manufacturers as he stressed that the DTI findings even quoted PMA as a national union of electronics and metal workers and not as representative of the domestic motor vehicle industry. If PMA does not represent the industry as defined under Sec. 6 of the Safeguards Act that petitioner for safeguards refers to domestic producers, Britanico said that PMA has “no personality to represent the domestic industry.”

According to Britanico, until such time that PMA is given authority by the domestic producers, the group will have difficulty submitting data. He wondered as to how PMA can submit the data since the TC Form 5 requires industry information.

Atty. Jacqueline Ann A. Tan from Angara Abello Concepcion Regala and Cruz Law Offices, who represented Mitsubishi Motors Corp., also echoed the concerns raised by Britanico on the jurisdiction of PMA.  Tan questioned as to how PMA can come up with evidence when they are not domestic producers.

Atty. Eric R. Ricalde, counsel of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp., also raised the issue of sharing confidential information due to competition issues. He said that as petitioner that supposedly represents the domestic industry, PMA has to submit adjustment plans with the imposition of the safeguard duty.

Other legal teams at the preliminary conference were SGV & Co. Partner Atty. Victor De Dios, who represented Toyota Motors Philippines, while Atty. Arlyn A. Sarmiento-Sy from the same law firm representing Isuzu Philippines Corp. In a clarificatory letter, SGV & Co said they are not a law firm, but a professional services firm that provides a range of services in assurance, tax, consulting, strategy and transactions. Their lawyers though, SGV said, provide their clients tax and customs advisory services.

Atty. Kristine Alcantara represented Bermaz Auto Inc., the sole importer and distributor of Mazda vehicles in Philippines while Atty. Erol Roudel Ecalnir represented Sojits Fuso Philippines, which distributes Fuso commercial vehicles in the country. Sojits Fuso is a sister company of Sojits G Auto Philippines, which distributes Geely vehicles locally.

TC Officer-In-Charge Ernesto Albano assured the legal counsel of the regularity of the DTI in coming up with the decision. “I am sure the DTI has looked at the issue of representation,” he said. In fact, he pointed out that DTI can initiate a motu propio investigation on the matter.

Albano further stressed that the fact that DTI acted on the petition only meant that the issue of representation is “not actually an issue.”

PMA President Ruel Punzalan also told Business Bulletin in a follow-up interview that “DTI will not grant our petition if we do not have the legal authority.” He said they will also consult with the lawyers, who are assisting them in the case.

Meantime, representatives from the governments of Indonesia and Thailand, the major exporters of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, were advised to formally write the TC for their request for meetings to clarify some issues.

The Bureau of Customs has already started last February 1, 2021 the collection of provisional P70,000  safeguard duty per unit of imported passenger cars and P110,000 per unit of imported light commercial vehicles as ordered by the DTI.

 The TC has reminded all parties the deadline for submission of initial memoranda/position papers on the closing of March 11, 2021. Public hearings will follow on April 26-30. The TC is also required to submit its formal investigation report to the DTI Secretary on June 3, 2021.

Once the TC has made final determination on the causal link between surge in importation and the serious injury caused to the domestic motor vehicle manufacturing, a definitive safeguard duty will be imposed on affected passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. The definitive safeguard duty would last for three years, but renewable for a certain period of years.