Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Issue No. 29                        September 2-8,  2001                    Quezon City, Philippines

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The Political Animal
Teddy A. Casiño



Gentext Rules


Finally, a new development in the political and economic scene. Something, thank God, Marx and the cosmic forces, that is unrelated to the Corpus expose, the Estrada plunder case or the revelations of Fr. Eliseo Nacorda.

Last week, a group calling itself TxtPower launched what promises to be a Quixotic battle against the two biggest telecom operators in the country – Smart-PLDT and Globe Telecom.

The issue at hand is the planned cutback on free text messages that cellphone operators Smart and Globe have been giving their subscribers. TxtPower calls the plan a “blatant profiteering scheme by monopolies in the Philippine telecommunications industry whose greed for profits have become insatiable.”

Well said and about time, considering that the oligopoly in the telecommunications industry has been screwing the consuming public for decades. From its start as a monopoly under the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT), the telecom industry has now been transformed to an oligopoly, with only three major players: PLDT, Globe and BayanTel.

It is Globe and PLDT subsidiary Smart, however, that have hogged cellular phone services, with Smart eating up Piltel and Globe eating up Islacom.

The telecom industry has always been a monopoly and a milking cow not only for its owners but for top government officials who practice bureaucrat capitalism to the hilt. The telecom monopolies count among the biggest contributors to the political campaigns of presidents, senators and congressmen. This is true both here and abroad.

In fact, the global telecom industry has, side by side with the information technology sector, emerged as the new wave for global monopoly capitalism. It threatens to match the influence and wealth of the oil, energy and mining monopolies that have traditionally dominated the world.

It is in this sense that TxtPower’s battle takes on David-and-Goliath proportions. How a motley crew of young people can engage giants like Smart and Globe in the battlefield of public opinion and policy will be interesting.

But more than the drama, it would be interesting to see if TxtPower can jumpstart the lethargic, or perhaps non-existent consumer movement in the country.

A scanning of so-called consumers’ unions in the country show that they function more as PR agencies of producers or outright rackets rather than protectors of the Filipino consumers. There are times, such as during the Pepsi 349 fiasco, when consumer groups take center stage. But they tend to fizzle out after the payoffs.

Strictly speaking, the fight against high oil prices and the deregulation of the oil industry is a consumer issue, but it is the cause-oriented groups, transport associations and labor unions that have taken up the issue by default, since no consumers group takes up the cudgels against the oil monopolies.

It is also interesting to note that TxtPower is powered by young, idealistic men and women from the middle class. From a handful of concerned “texters,” the group has now expanded, via text and e-mail, to a few hundred individuals and still growing. These are the same forces which comprised the bulk of People Power 2, and we know what that movement did to no less than the presidency.

Despite its initial victories against Globe and Smart, it would not be surprising for TxtPower to eventually lose its battle against the powerful telecom monopolies. But the greater victory would lie in the birth of a genuine consumers’ movement. This is the hope that TxtPower gives. Bulatlat.com


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