ARTA flexes its muscle
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2020 - 12:00am

The Philippines ranked 95 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020 report which measures government regulations that enhance business activities as well as those that constrain it.

While the country jumped 29 notches compared to it’s 2018 124th rank, due to improvements in terms of starting a business, dealing with construction permits, protecting minority investors, and removing the minimum capital requirement for domestic companies, a lot remains to be done.

Among the ASEAN member states, there were no changes in rankings compared to the 2019 report. Singapore still leads the pack followed by Malaysia and Thailand. The Philippines still ranked 7th, followed by Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar.

One of the measures which the Philippine government has undertaken in terms of making it easier for businesses to thrive in the country is the creation of the Anti-Red Tape Authority or ARTA pursuant to Republic Act 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business Act which was signed into law by President Duterte in 2018.

The law aims to cut the time to process applications to three days for simple transactions, seven working days for complex transactions, and 20 days for transactions requiring highly technical assessment.

We have not really heard much from ARTA since it was created.

But lately, ARTA directed all national government agencies and local government units to act on all pending applications that are completed and paid and to approve them before March 7 this year. According to ARTA chief Jeremiah Belgica, there is a need to make government agencies realize that the law is here and that there are no more excuses for their slow processes and inefficiencies.

ARTA reminded the agencies that failure to act on the applications within the prescribed period will render such applications to be automatically deemed approved or extended as the case may be by operation of law and may expose the government officer handling the application as well as the head of the office or agency to possible administrative sanctions or even criminal liability.

Just recently, ARTA started flexing its muscles when it ordered the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to immediately issue to a private company the license being applied for, which according to ARTA, is already deemed approved.

ARTA said the NTC violated the Ease of Doing Business Law as well as its implementing rules and regulations after the NTC failed to issue the certificate of public convenience or CPC being applied for by News and Entertainment Network Corp. or Newsnet within the period required by the law and the rules despite Newsnet having complied with all the requirements, including payment of fees.

In an order signed by Belgica promulgated last Feb. 12, the anti-red tape body also warned NTC, through its commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, that failure to comply with the order to issue the CPC to Newsnet shall constrain ARTA to file the appropriate case or action in the proper forum.

The ARTA declared as complete Newsnet’s application for a CPC to install, operate, and maintain a local multi-point distribution system (LMDS) to deliver interactive pay television and multimedia services in South Luzon, North Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in the 25.35 to 26.35 gigahertz (GHz) frequency range with the authority to charge rates therefore.

In an affidavit submitted to ARTA, Newsnet last Jan. 31 alleged that, the company has already submitted all the requirements for the issuance of the CPC, such requirements having been duly admitted by the NTC through an order dated Oct. 19, 2018 . The company also said that it has paid the required fees. Inspite of the submission of the requirements and payment of fees, there was still a manifest delay of more than one year in the approval or disapproval of Newsnet’s application for a CPC.

According to Belgica, after due investigation and evaluation of the arguments and documents submitted by both parties and considering that the NTC order dated Oct. 19, 2018 and the official receipts issued by the NTC serve as enough proof or have the same force and effect of a license, permit, or certification, the ARTA declares the completeness of Newsnet’s application and consequently, such application is deemed automatically approved by operation of law pursuant to Section 10 of Republic Act 11032.

In its order, the ARTA also directed NTC to submit its compliance report within three working days from receipt of the order.

The said frequencies of Newsnet have been used for many years in Metro Manila. Four years ago, Newsnet applied for provincial expansion which necessitated a CPC from the NTC. Despite the hearings having been finished for more than a year, NTC failed to act on the application.

NTC’s own rules of practice and procedure mandate it to render a decision within 30 days from the date the application was submitted to the body for decision on the merits. In the case of Newsnet’s application, NTC took more than 10 months without either approving or disapproving it.

While Newsnet applied for a provisional authority to install and operate a nationwide LMDS using 25.35-26.35 GHz, NTC instead issued an order dated Jan. 27, allowing Newsnet to co-use a different frequency of 26.35 to 27.35 GHZ belonging to a different entity, GHT Inc.

In an earlier submission to ARTA, Newsnet pointed out that while Newsnet and GHT are as claimed by NTC related parties, it is a fundamental corporate principle that the two have legal personalities separate and distinct from each other.

Newsnet also claimed that NTC’s Jan. 27 order which was issued only after the company filed a formal complaint with ARTA is a “ruse maliciously intended to deprive ARTA of its mandate and escape from the consequences of NTC’s inordinate and unjustified failure to act on Newsnet’s application for 10 long months.”

It remains to be seen though how ARTA, which is under the Office of the President, will enforce its mandate against a government agency which apparently is resisting ARTA’s alleged encroachment into its quasi-judicial powers.

Feeling the heat

Powerful personalities behind what could possibly be one of the big scams in decades are starting to feel the heat under their comfortable seats.

They’re literally scrambling to find a way to clean up the conflicted mess they built around themselves, according to sources.

The executives who have been holding powerful positions for some time are reportedly getting desperate to smoothen the wrinkles they have created by reaching out to a prestigious private sector institution for a lifeboat.

These persons are pushing hard for the institution to take over the functions of the company they cooked up.

The personalities are reportedly seeking the help of officials of this respected group in the hope that their so-called good intentions would find approval from their bosses.

They think that this quick transfer of functions will save them.

While the putative lifeboat they are banking on might not want to get itself embroiled in the mess, it was alleged that there are some personalities within the prestigious organization who have been attempting to facilitate the transaction.

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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