THE Supreme Court has junked a petition, filed by one of the country’s largest food and beverage companies, that sought to declare the Price Act’s anti-profiteering provision as invalid.
Universal Robina Corp. (URC) had “failed to show the invalidity of the laws and issuances it assails,” the high court said in a decision that was promulgated on February 14 but only made public last week.
The firm had filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court after a regional trial court denied a motion for declaratory relief in 2012. URC had argued that the Price Act failed to clearly define what profiteering is.
The company, along with other flour millers, was charged in 2010 by the Trade department’s Bureau of Trade Regulation and Consumer Protection for allegedly failing to reduce prices despite lower cost factors such as global wheat prices, exchange rates, logistics costs and tariffs.
The bureau alleged that URC’s flour price per bag constituted profiteering under Republic Act 7581, or the “Price Act,” as it did not represent the true worth of the commodity.
In ruling against the firm, the Supreme Court said it had failed to show that authorities “have unbridled discretion to determine that profiteering has been committed. Neither has it established that it did not have fair notice of the conduct to be avoided.”
The court also said the petition for declaratory relief is not the proper remedy to challenge the Price Act provision.
“Petitioner essentially believes that the threat of being charged with profiteering is a sword of Damocles to coerce sellers to cooperate with pricing demands from the Department of Trade and Industry,” the high tribunal noted in its ruling.
URC argued that this violated the laissez-faire principle, which essentially means that the government should not intervene in the marketplace, under the Constitution.
The high court, however, said that laissez-faire “is not controlling in our jurisdiction” and that the Constitution prioritizes the protection of human rights and social justice.
“The court is aware of additional costs to business enterprises as they comply with the requirements of regulation,” it added, noting that regulatory costs “are not per se evil … [or] inefficient.”
Such costs “contribute to the assurance of efficiency” and, “properly borne” by producers, “assure that the economic structure is appropriate to … evolving sustained demand for products needed by the majority.”
“By doing so, we come closer to the constitutional ideal of a national economy with a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth, enjoying a sustained increase in the goods and services produced by the nation for the benefit of the people.”
URC’s shares closed P1.50, or 1.52 percent higher, at P113.50 on Monday amid a 0.46-percent drop for the benchmark Philippine Stock Exchange index.