“I’m telling business can complain directly (to the Cabinet). My order to the Cabinet now is to really take the most drastic measures that they can find,” the president said.
Duterte looks to problems in own backyard after telco threats
Prinz Magtulis (Philstar.com) - July 31, 2020 - 12:57pm

MANILA, Philippines — After President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to seize telecom assets for their bad service, it now appears that the problem is coming from government's own backyard, particularly red tape involved in securing business permits to construct new cellular towers.

No less than Duterte recognized this in a recorded briefing on Friday where he ordered Cabinet members to “take the most drastic measures” and come up with a long-term fix to one of the bureaucracy’s most notorious problems. 

“I’m telling business can complain directly (to the Cabinet). My order to the Cabinet now is to really take the most drastic measures that they can find,” the president said.

“This is my last mile. I make no apologies for the things I did wrong. For me, I’ll just work,” he said partly in Filipino.

Work toward reducing permits have already started, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in the same briefing. From an average of 200 days, Año promised telcos all necessary permits will be released within “16 to 20 days,” after which construction may proceed. To do that, some licenses will no longer be required.

“We will make sure that all LGUs (local government units) and other agencies will follow,” he said.

The red tape involved in securing licenses to build is not new, nor efforts to improve the entire process. As it is, Duterte’s orders to PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom Inc. to shape up at his most recent State of the Nation Address will only be possible if more cell sites would be built, and be built with haste. 

The Philippines is falling behind its Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of telco infrastructure. In cell sites alone, around 18,000 towers shared by the country’s duopoly are powering 30.4 million mobile phone owners as of 2017, according to latest data from Statista, a data provider. 

To compare, Thailand has around 60,000 cell sites for 26.5 million phone owners.

“We get 25-29 permits and it takes us around 8 months to complete that…For us to reach a stage where we are ready to build, we will spend so many days just to secure all the permits,” said Ernest Cu, Globe Telecom chief executive, in the same briefing.

The problem in permitting is so severe that even Duterte’s first solution to the slow telco network, a new player, is facing the same hurdles. Dennis Uy-backed Dito Telecommunity was forced to delay its technical launch supposedly held early July by another six months after failing to build the necessary cell sites to reach the state-mandated speed and coverage.

Despite the recent delays though, Dito, which is also 40% owned by state-owned China Telecommunications Inc., had said the company remains committed to go online by March 2021. 

In addition to a third player, the government is also behind plans to build common telco towers, which aim to remove the burden of constructing cell sites from telco players to specifically-designated tower companies to speed up building. Rules governing the program was issued last June, but actual projects have yet to start. 

Before financial markets closed for a holiday on Friday, telco shares ended the trading week up. Shares at PLDT rose 1.82% on Thursday to close at P1,340 apiece, while those of Globe traded 2.18% at P2,064 each.

Dito CME Holdings Corp. last traded 0.75% up at P2.68 apiece.


Editor's Note: A unit under PLDT's media conglomerate has a majority stake in Philstar Global Corp., which runs Philstar.com. This article was independently produced following editorial guidelines.

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