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Economy

Philippines to protect whistleblowers exposing price fixing

Antitrust watchdog escalates fight against anti-competitive deals

A supermarket in Metro Manila.
A supermarket in Metro Manila. Food price inflation is rising in the Philippines.   © Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippines will grant immunity to whistleblowers who report on business practices that undermine competition, making one of its strongest moves yet to take on price fixers and cartels.

A leniency program, which has been in the works since last year, also comes at a time when the Southeast Asian country is grappling with worsening food inflation, a problem some blame on businesses colluding to raise prices.

The Philippine Competition Commission will offer leniency in the form of immunity from lawsuits and reduction of fines to companies or people involved in an anti-competitive deal "in exchange for the voluntary disclosure of information regarding such agreement," according to a draft prepared by the PCC for public comment.

Such practices include price fixing, collusion and deals that substantially lessen competition.

Applicants will have to stop engaging in the anti-competitive practices and provide information and evidence on what entities are involved, the affected products and markets, and other matters.

The leniency program is the latest tool of the commission, which has scrutinized deals by large corporations since its 2016 founding.

In October, the PCC fined ride-hailing companies Grab and Uber a total of 16 million pesos ($300,000) for pushing ahead with a merger amid an antitrust review. That August, conglomerate SM Investments settled for taking a minority stake in local bakery chain Goldilocks Bakeshop after a planned acquisition ran into daunting post-transaction requirements from the PCC. The regulator is also in court over wireless spectrum sold by conglomerate San Miguel to mobile carriers PLDT and Globe Telecom.

Enlisting whistleblowers to inform on price fixers could also help the country battle inflation. Sen. Cynthia Villar blamed cartels early this year for contributing to spiking prices of rice, a staple in the Philippines.

The Philippine Competition Act of 2015 allows for fines of up to 250 million pesos and imprisonment for up to seven years for entering into anti-competitive agreements but also mandates a leniency program.

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