MANILA,  January 14, 2004 (STAR) HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - It was treachery of the highest order.

Our telecommunications companies were made to understand that their American counterparts have already accepted the Philippinesí increased termination rates. So our telco representatives went to Honolulu, Hawaii to attend the Pacific Telecommunications Conference to have bilateral talks with the US telcos and finally forge termination rate agreements. Unlike China which increased its rates but after a month had to return to its original rates, Filipino telcos stood their ground against their big American brothers and succeeded. The whole telecommunications world was proud of the Philippines.

(It will be recalled that in February last year, our telcos raised their termination rates unilaterally. The US Federal Communications Commission found our telcos guilty of whipsawing which is an administrative violation and ordered US telcos not to pay the Philippine telcos for charges already incurred. An appeal was made to the FCC but no action has been taken yet. Philippine telcos refused to be bullied and did not roll back their rates. After all, it was the Americansí loss, not ours. AT&T and MCI/WorldCom then began bilateral negotiations with our carriers, accepting the increased rates and entering into interim arrangements with our telcos until the FCC lifts its order.)

Little did our Filipino telco execs know that they were taken for a ride and about to be made the laughing stock of the entire world. On the first day of the PTC, at about nine in the morning, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents went looking for 30 of our executives to serve subpoenas compelling them to testify this Thursday before a grand jury in Honolulu on charges of anti-trust, a criminal offense in the US.

Some of our execs who were billeted at Hilton, Hawaii were served the summons in their hotel rooms. Once served the subpoenas, they can no longer leave US territory. (One of them was Globe senior vice-president Gil Genio and another lady executive from Digitel.) Some of those who were not staying in Hilton were immediately alerted of what was happening and were able to escape. These highly respected Filipino telco executives were being treated like common criminals in the US. One of them even had to leave his belongings behind to escape and take the first flight out of Honolulu.

It appears that the US Department of Justice anti-trust division was the one which filed a complaint. Like our prosecutorís office, the grand jury was tasked to determine if there is prima facie basis that a crime has been committed. (In a grand jury inquiry, no lawyer is present.) If indeed there is basis, then an information is filed with the regular courts.

Philippine telcos were being accused of conniving with the Philippine government, particularly the National Telecommunications Commission, to commit anti-trust when they conspired to raise their rates. In fact, our telcos formation of the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators (PCTO) was taken against them as proof of compiracy.

One of these execs called me from Honolulu, assailing the manner by which the subpoenas were served. The exec said the Americans made sure that the warning to the rest of the world was loud and clear. "Nobody messes with the Americans!"

Our foreign affairs chief was right on the dot when she said that the timing of the issuance of summons is alarming and perhaps motivated by the desire of the complaints to embarrass Filipino telecom executives while abroad and the Philippine government in general.

The action of the Americans is something our government, in particular President Arroyo, should not be taking lightly.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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