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Uber exits Philippines despite antitrust review

Inconsistent regulations let US ride-hailing service defy order

Vietnam has joined the Philippines and Singapore in reviewing the integration of Grab and Uber's ride-hailing services in Southeast Asia. (Photo by Cliff Venzon)

MANILA -- Uber Technologies ended its ride-hailing service in the Philippines on Monday despite the order by antitrust regulators to continue operations until a review is concluded.

The U.S.-based company alerted clients Sunday night about the shutdown and directed them to download the app of rival Grab, which acquired Uber's Southeast Asian businesses last month. Uber, in exchange, will own a 27.5% stake in Grab.

Uber chose to follow a Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board directive asking the company to halt operations before April 16 because its license as a transportation network company has expired. The board has argued that the company now lacks the staffing to support its operations and ensure passenger safety.

But the directive was inconsistent with the interim measures set by the Philippine Competition Commission, which on April 7 ordered both companies to freeze the merger, keep their operations independent and refrain from transferring personal data of drivers and riders pending a review.

PCC Commissioner Stella Quimbo said Uber has the burden of complying with both regulators, a scenario that likely will trigger discussions on the commission's relationship with other industry regulators.

The commission has told both companies to explain by Tuesday why they could not comply fully with the interim measures. "If they don't submit tomorrow, we will have to take further actions," Quimbo told the Nikkei Asian Review, declining to be more specific.

The Philippine Competition Act lets the PCC void a transaction if it decides the deal poses serious harm to consumers. The regulator said Monday that the merger gives Grab a 94% share in the Philippine ride-hailing market.

Grab and Uber have been moving to complete their regional integration since announcing their merger on March 26. The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore, which is also reviewing the transaction, has asked Uber to continue services until May 7 and barred Grab from imposing exclusivity contracts on drivers to keep the market open.

The Vietnam Competition Authority launched an investigation of the deal Friday that could take 30 days. The outcome of the multiple investigations could determine the future of Southeast Asia's ride-hailing market even after the merger is concluded.

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