EDITORIAL - Suspending regulation

EDITORIAL - Suspending regulation

(The Philippine Star) - May 10, 2021 - 12:00am

Apart from waging war against the drug menace, President Duterte has often said he wants priority given to cutting red tape and reducing opportunities for corruption. He has ordered government agencies to release documents for simple transactions within three working days, and has set shorter deadlines for processing more complex undertakings with the government.

Simplifying procedures is relatively easy if the red tape was instituted by individuals or agencies merely by virtue of office circulars or similar authorizations. But the order hits a snag when the red tape is built into agency procedures by law. Many persons and private businesses have complained that while one procedure could be completed within three days as ordered by the President, there could be dozens of steps in securing certain permits or clearances, and it could take many months before all the requirements are assessed and the necessary documents are released for just one project.

One agency in the spotlight these days is the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is getting flak for what critics believe is its failure to act swiftly enough on applications for the emergency use of COVID vaccines and treatments. Entrepreneurs have complained about their interminable wait for FDA approval for other pharmaceutical products.

Also eliciting concern in this pandemic is the Data Privacy Act of 2012 or Republic Act 10173. Considering the proliferation of online scams and other cyber crimes as well as the unwarranted intrusion of certain elements of the state into citizens’ privacy, RA 10173 is a welcome piece of legislation.

In this devastating COVID crisis, however, senators say certain provisions of RA 10173 are hampering contact tracing – a critical component in efficient pandemic response. The contact tracing czar himself, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, has lamented the weakness of the country’s contact tracing capability, including the StaySafe.PH app.

Now senators are discussing the possibility of suspending some of the regulatory powers of the FDA as well as certain provisions of the Data Privacy Act to improve responses during emergencies. The necessary remedial legislation may be included in the proposed Bayanihan 3.

While emergency response must be speeded up, lawmakers must also tread carefully in clipping the powers of regulatory agencies. The FDA has already suffered from being ignored by public officials, from the President himself and his security group to congressmen distributing the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin as treatment for COVID-19. In tweaking laws affecting emergency response, the objective must be to enhance efficiency rather than open the doors for abuse.

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