Crossroads

Perez should not be appointed head of the ARTA until the entire controversy is cleared up. Public interest demands it.

The Anti-Red Tape Authority is at a crossroads. Created by Republic Act 11032, the ARTA is the government agency tasked to address the problem of needless bureaucracy and miserable delays in the government, known as red tape. Ombudsman Samuel Martires thinks otherwise, but that was the subject of a commentary last week.

In particular, the ARTA is expected to reduce red tape in government agencies and to make transactions with those agencies as brief and as less cumbersome as possible.

The use of the term red tape, which came to be a reference to the unnecessary delay in processing transactions with government agencies, goes back to the 16th century, during the time of the Spanish monarch, Charles V. Back then, government documents pertaining to individual dealings with the government were so voluminous, they were bound together by a red ribbon or red tape.

On 8 July 2019, Jeremiah Belgica was appointed as ARTA’s first Director General. In May 2022, Belgica and four ARTA officials were placed under preventive suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman for the alleged issuance of frequencies to a disqualified telecommunications firm.

The four other ARTA officials were ARTA Deputy Director General Eduardo Bringas, Division Chief Sheryl Pura-Sumagui, Director Jedreck Ng and Director Melamy Salvadora-Asperin.

Belgica and the four face charges for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The charges against them were based on the order issued by the ARTA on 1 March 2021 for the assignment of frequencies to NOW Telecom Company, a supposed third player in the telecommunications industry in the country.

That order was questioned because the NOW Telecom Company did not participate in the selection process for the third telecommunications provider because it failed to meet the requirements for the same.

Complicating the situation is that the frequencies that ARTA ordered to be assigned to NOW Telecom Company were already awarded to DITO Telecommunity.

Temporarily replacing Belgica at the helm of ARTA, albeit as officer-in-charge only, is Ernesto Perez, the current Deputy Director General for Operations of ARTA. He says the ARTA will continue to operate daily under him.

From all indications, Perez is being groomed as the next head of ARTA. That may be so, but what is the extent of the alleged involvement of Perez, if there is any, in the NOW Telecom Company controversy which led to the preventive suspension of Belgica and his underlings?

The NOW Telecom Company controversy is no laughing matter. It involves top officials of the ARTA allegedly dipping their hands in a controversy involving billions of pesos.

More specifically, it involves a special accommodation granted by the ARTA to NOW Telecoms Company in the selection process for the third telecommunications player in the country. NOW Telecoms Company did not participate in that process precisely because it did not meet the qualifications prescribed by law for its inclusion.

In other words, the ARTA allowed a party that has been disqualified from joining a selection process to actually end up getting selected. That act has the badges of graft.

As the ARTA Deputy Director General for Operations, Perez would have found out, sooner or later, about the NOW Telecoms Company controversy. Perez ought to have informed higher authorities about the anomaly once he learned about it. Did he?

Is it possible that Perez may have a hand in the controversy itself? We don’t know as of now, but we like to find out. A statement from Perez in this regard may be enlightening.

In the meantime, Perez should not be appointed head of the ARTA until the entire controversy is cleared up. Public interest demands it.


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