Tolentino poses concerns over proposed PSA amendment allowing foreign ownership of tollways

Published August 4, 2021, 4:56 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Francis Tolentino has raised national security concerns over a proposal that would allow foreign companies to fully control and operate toll expressways in the Philippines.

Senator Francis Tolentino (Senate of the Philippines)

Tolentino, in a statement on Wednesday, August 4, stressed that tollways “are the blood veins of the Philippine economy, encompassing our way of life and facilitating the mobility of people, goods, and services.”

In his interpellation on Senate Bill No. 2094, which seeks to amend the Commonwealth Act No. 146 or the Public Service Act (PSA), Tolentino warned that allowing foreign companies to take control of the country’s expressways might have “national security implications in the long run.”

“We are tiptoeing into some national security land mines, so to speak,” Tolentino raised during their plenary session on Tuesday, August 3.

SB 2094 sought to enumerate public utilities, which, under the Constitution, are subject to foreign ownership restrictions. Only corporations that are 60-percent owned by Filipinos must be given the franchise and allowed to operate as a public utility.

Under the bill, identified as public utility are the transmission and distribution of electricity; and water pipelines distribution systems and sewerage pipeline systems.

Persons or institutions not classified as a public utility shall be considered as a public service, but will “continue to be subject to regulation” by relevant agencies.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon, co-sponsor of the bill, said tollways will be considered as a public service.

“These will be regulated by the government,” Drilon told Tolentino.

But a “dangerous” scenario, Tolentino said, is if foreign state-owned companies are allowed construct and operate expressways traversing military facilities and installations, or those passing near vital infrastructure, such as dams and power plants.

He also alluded to the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China, mentioning that Chinese corporations might be interested in tollway projects.

“Any major blockage or shutting down of tollways would effectively derail the economy and paralyze the government’s disaster and emergency response,” Tolentino added.

The administration senator said the construction and operation of expressways should remain in the hands of corporations which are majority owned by Filipinos.

Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Services and also a sponsor of SB 2094, said on Tuesday that they will consider Tolentino’s concerns and possible amendments. She maintained, however, that there are safeguards in the bill.

Earlier, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also aired his reservation as the bill did not list telecommunications and common carriers as public utilities, thus allowing a 100-percent foreign ownership.