Philippine graft buster responds

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

You must know by now that if you’re a businessman in the Philippines, you have to shell out a lot of money to do business in our nation of 114 million.

But for as long as you have the cash, you will get what you need. Business and fire permits and visas to enter the Philippines are just some of the things you can get so long as you pay grease money, as I wrote in my Jan. 7 column titled “Permits, visas for sale.”

I received quite a number of reactions from readers, sharing with me their similar experiences.

The problem is deep and ingrained in our system. Letter senders offered to share with me more examples.

One reader, working for a multinational company, said that the problem is worse in local government units or in the different agencies in the regions.

He said that the Philippines should adhere to international standards to address the problem.

“I think if the Philippines will adhere to the international standards of anti-bribery and anti-fraud, this will help lessen the burden of both private and public to become real partners,” he said.

Another urged Senator Raffy Tulfo, known as a defender of the aggrieved, to launch a Senate investigation on the matter.

Anti-Red Tape Authority’s response

But I am fortunate to get a response from the Philippines’ graft buster, the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), an office attached to the Office of the President.

Thank you, ARTA director general Ernesto Perez, for the detailed letter you sent.

Hope isn’t lost as ARTA shared with me the initiatives done by the relatively new agency, which was created in 2018 following the passage of Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018.

Here are excerpts from ARTA’s response:

“Our Office strongly wants to subdue unwarranted delay and unnecessary and unlawful fees, including the delay in inspection and issuance of permits and imposition of the fees that are ‘on top of the standard visa fees’ and ‘higher-than-usual cash payments for fire permits,’ as stated in your column.

“That is why ARTA has been in continued coordination with other enforcement agencies such as the Philippine National Police as we are equally committed to the enforcement of the Ease of Doing Business Law.”

Going after the fixers

ARTA has also been coordinating with other agencies and has made strides in going after fixers.

“Through our efforts and coordination with other agencies, a fixer at the Land Transportation Office (LTO) was caught and was ordered just last year by the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) of Quezon City Branch 38 to suffer one year of imprisonment and pay a fine of P500,000.

“Another fixer of LTO was caught and ordered by the MTC Quezon City Branch 131 to imprisonment of one to three years and pay a fine of P1,000,000.

“Similarly, another person from LTO was caught and found by the court guilty of the Ease of Doing Business Law, and an employee of the Bureau of Fire (BOF) of Quezon City was also caught and was found by the court to be guilty of Direct Bribery,” ARTA said in its letter.

On fixers, I hope ARTA also goes after the heads of these syndicates and their backers in Congress or in Malacañang.

Fire permits

“With regard to securing Fire Safety Evaluation Clearance (FSEC), Fire Safety Inspection Certificate (FSIC) and Certification of Fire Incidents for Fire Insurance, the Ease of Doing Business Law has streamlined its procedures,” ARTA said.

“Pertinent provisions provide: (a) Issuance of FSEC and FSIC shall in no case be longer than seven working days; (b) For renewal of business permit, the BFP shall, within three working days from application, present the FSIC to the city/municipality, either through the copy of the FSIC or the negative/positive list.”

These efforts show that while it is still a relatively young government agency, ARTA has been striving to eliminate red tape and improve bureaucracy in the government.

I hope it also keeps a close watch on its internal affairs so its own people do not get corrupted by the syndicates. Just look at what happened to China’s anti-corruption watchdog.

Call the graft-buster

For those who find themselves or their businesses stuck in the bureaucratic cobwebs, try filing complaints with the ARTA.

“Should you encounter issues or difficulties in transacting with government agencies, you may file a complaint with ARTA through our email:  [email protected] or hotline 1-2782 (1-ARTA).

“You may also reach the Complaints Center (CCC) through their hotline: 8888.” Government agencies are given 72 hours to respond.

“Failure to respond within this time will prompt ARTA to issue a warning to concerned agencies, initiate an investigation or file charges before appropriate bodies,” ARTA said.

Personally, I’ve never made any attempt to dial a government office’s complaint hotline but I realize now that maybe, it’s worth a try.

Perhaps we can all work together to weed out the system of corruption and help our country move forward.

Hopefully, one day we will stop seeing permits and visas for sale.

On the other side of this problem, we must also, as citizens, make sure that we don’t sell out to a flawed system.

Selling signatures for Charter change is an example.

But that’s another story for another day.

*   *   *

Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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