By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez is amenable to allowing foreign ownership of online platforms and mass media saying this should be part of planned amendments in the economic provisions of the Constitution.

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez

Lopez expressed his personal view on the question whether or not online platforms be treated as mass media, which is protected under the Constitution to be Filipino owned, during the recent E-Commerce Dialogue.

The Philippine Constitution’s Article XVI, Section 11 is categorical: “The ownership of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines.”

Most countries still maintained this prohibition on foreign capital in mass media despite the globalization of the world economy and the free-flow of capital. This restriction on foreign ownership is premised on the ground that only citizens of the country have primary control of the means of forming public opinion.

“That’s the part of the Constitution that will have to be changed. Every time there is talk about charter change this is one of the economic provisions that everyone is talking about that needs change, for example the mass media,” he said.

He explained that mass media needs to be liberalized because the economy is now driven by the Internet.

“Internet is everywhere, right in our room and wherever we go we are mobile and that mass media that you have, you carry it with you 24×7. What I am saying is that it seemed no longer relevant that mass media must be owned only by Filipinos,” he said.

“I have a liberal view point on that. For me, there is no need to require online platforms to be Filipino owned.”

Meantime, the DTI is moving to regulate online businesses by requiring merchants to register with the DTI to formalize their operation and to strengthen transparency and accountability.

DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said at the E-Commerce Dialogue that they are looking at revising the Consumer Act to include the online transactions. At present, there is no distinction between the physical store and the online store.

At present, a vast majority of 80 percent online sellers belong to the informal sector, meaning they do not issue receipts and not registered with any government agency.

By requiring registration of online merchants, the Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau of the DTI can protect consumers. At present, the FTEB cannot protect consumers with complaints against online merchants unless they will seek the help of the NIB or the DICT to find the seller.