POSTSCRIPT / May 31, 2011 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Competition keeps telcos on their toes

NOT HOSTILE: The anxiety in this Short Message Service (SMS) capital of the world over the possible phase-out of unlimited or UNLI texting being enjoyed by Digitel (Sun) subscribers after the majority-acquisition by the PLDT (Smart) of Digital Telecommunications (Digitel/Sun) is understandable.

But judging from what I have heard and read, the majority control of Digitel/Sun by the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (sister company of Smart Communications) is neither a hostile takeover nor intended to block out Sun.

For, as PLDT President and CEO Napoleon Nazareno has said in so many words, why kill a goose that lays golden eggs? There is no sense in antagonizing a sizeable market sector consisting of Sun’s half-million UNLI subscribers.

What is even better news, Nazareno said Sun will use the state of the art facilities and massive infrastructure of the PLDT/Smart communications system.

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MONOPOLY COMING?: Last March 29, PLDT agreed to buy for P74.1 billion 51.55 percent of the equity of Digital Telecommunications Philippines Inc. (Digitel) and other assets. Digitel owns 100 percent of Digitel Mobile Philippines Inc. (Sun).

Digitel’s 450,000 subscribers will add to PLDT’s 1.8 million customers. With the deal, the market share of PLDT will increase to 67 percent.

Opposing the transaction, Smart’s main rival Globe Telecom raised fears of a monopoly shaping up in the telco business.

But big market share and technical superiority do not necessarily mean a monopoly. There will be a monopoly only if Globe and other operators, as well as the government (National Telecommunications Commission), will allow it.

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COMPETITION: Ask subscribers. To them, to us, the best antidote to the emergence of a monopoly is competition.

The field is still wide open. Competition is still robust. Instead of pulling down rivals, existing telcos should upgrade facilities and improve services – and prove themselves.

Congress can still assign more frequencies to budding telecommunication firms. Aside from the front-runners Smart and Globe, San Miguel Corp. has an upcoming company expected to join the fray.

Anyway there is the NTC to regulate and referee the telecommunications game. Just don’t forget us subscribers in the shuffle!

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JOCKEYING: At Customs, it is obvious that somebody wants the job of Commissioner Angelito Alvarez that badly. How else can one explain the media campaign to ruin his reputation and thus give President Noynoy Aquino reason to fire him?

Take this issue raised against him in the discovery of allegedly smuggled luxury cars and motorcycles on a lot in Mindanao of businessman Leonard Allan Bigcas. The slant was that Alvarez was sleeping on the job, presumably for a price.

The timeline of events shows that Alvarez could not have been involved or responsible, because it all happened before his time. But this did not stop the derogatory reports from coming out.

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NOT THERE YET: Director Esteban Baltazar of the LTO Region IX has told the House sub-committee on customs and related laws that the vehicles seized from Bigcas were registered at their Tubud (Lanao del Norte) and Molave (Zamboanga del Sur) offices way back in 2009 and early 2010.

As for the chopper bike that was allegedly stolen from Hollywood scriptwriter Skip Woods, Bigcas testified at a congressional hearing that it had been parked in his father’s house for almost three years before raiders found it recently.

But Alvarez has been customs chief only for the past 11 months. How can he have command responsibility for alleged smuggling committed long before he took over?

President Aquino has clear criteria for choosing his top-echelon officials. He will remove or replace those falling short of his expectations without need for a demolition campaign to guide (or mislead?) him.

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PALACE ADVISORY: The news of Alvarez’s supposedly impending removal were attributed to the usual unidentified “sources” in Malacañang — often an indication that the stories were being planted.

The campaign has so escalated that the President was constrained to say yesterday through his spokesman Edwin Lacierda:

“Customs Commissioner Lito Alvarez remains in service at the pleasure of the President, as all appointees are. Any changes within the President’s official family will be announced by the President himself at the proper time.

“The President recognizes the earnestness of his Cabinet’s efforts, especially as regards his reform agenda of curbing corruption and alleviating poverty. More importantly, he is seeing the results, and is expecting more results forthcoming from government agencies. At this point, he is giving his appointees the space and trust to fulfill their mandate with integrity and competence, as is expected of them.”

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U.S. CONFIDENCE: The announcement last week of the entry into force (EIF) of the $434-million grant from the US government’s Millennium Challenge Corp. indicates growing confidence in the Aquino administration and underscores US commitment to the fight against poverty.

Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima said the EIF signals the shift into high gear of the implementation of three major projects under the MCC grant:

* Revenue Administration Reform Project (RARP), worth $54.30 million, under the Bureau of Internal Revenue and RIPS, will raise tax revenues and reduce tax evasion and corruption through reforms and modernization of the collection system.

* Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS), worth $120 million, implemented by the social welfare department, will improve infrastructure and social services for the poor and strengthen the capacity of local communities to lift themselves out of poverty.

* Secondary National Roads Development Project (SNRDP), worth $214.44 million, in partnership with the Department of Public Works and Highways, will reduce transportation costs and improve access to markets and social services by improving 220 kilometers of road in Samar.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 31, 2011)

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