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Fighting red tape

The prescribed processing time is three working days for simple transactions, seven working days for complex transactions, and 20 working days for highly technical transactions or for applications or requests

Benjamin Espiritu

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A survey of expatriate business executives taken in 2010 by a political and economic risk consulting firm came out with a finding that red tape was a prevalent problem of citizens in the Philippines and a deterrent to foreign investment. The report stated that the government “goes through the motion of addressing problems of bureaucratic red tape but nothing has really made a dent in the problem… Illegal fixing is well-entrenched in the Philippine bureaucracy, it said, referring to people called ‘fixers’ who offer to facilitate transactions with government offices for a fee and often in collaboration with corrupt employees.”

The problem of red tape has persisted through the years. In 2013, the then-deputy presidential spokespman told a press conference that “we have a big challenge… because of what we call red tape… we are encouraging our local government units (LGU) to streamline their processes and cut the number of their permits so that there will be more business in the country.” In 2014, a newspaper report came out with the heading “Red tape continues to drag down PH, says EU businessmen.” In late 2017, PLDT and Globe blamed red tape for the slow Internet, saying too many permits required by the government were hampering efforts to roll out more cell sites that would improve Internet speeds in the country.

Cognizant of the need to cut red tape to encourage business and make the Philippines more competitive, Republic Act 11032, the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018 (EODB-EGSD), was signed into law on 28 May 2018. The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) were signed on 17 July 2019. In a speech in Ilocos Sur on 25 July, President Duterte said government officials should no longer wait for the order for their dismissal should they fail to meet his order on the shorter processing of permits and other applications by the transacting public.

The law and its IRR cover all government offices and agencies in the Executive department including LGU, government-owned or -controlled corporations and other government instrumentalities located in the Philippines or abroad that provide services covering business-related and non-business transactions.

The IRR states that it is the policy of the government to promote accountability and integrity in government service, foster proper management of public affairs and public property, establish effective practices aimed at the efficient turnaround in the delivery of government services, and prevent graft and corruption. It encompasses a program for the adoption of simplified requirements and procedures aimed at the reduction of red tape and expediting business- and non-business-related transactions in government.

Under the law, all government agencies should provide a Citizen’s Charter that will communicate in simple terms the service standards or pledge of the office’s frontline services to the public. It should describe the step-by-step procedure for availing of a particular service, the person responsible for each step, the documents needed to be submitted and the fees to be paid, if any.

The prescribed processing time is three working days for simple transactions, seven working days for complex transactions, and 20 working days for highly technical transactions or for applications or requests involving activities which pose danger to public health, public safety, public morals and public policy.

There is a zero-contact policy. Public officials and employees are to limit interactions with an applicant or requesting party to the preliminary assessment and evaluation of sufficiency of submitted requirements of an application or request, unless such interaction is strictly necessary for the processing of the request or application.

Under the law, the head of the office or agency is primarily responsible for the implementation of the Act and the IRR, and will be held accountable in rendering fast, efficient, convenient and reliable service to the public. All transactions and processes are deemed to have been made with the permission or clearance from the highest authority having jurisdiction over the government office or agency concerned. There can be no finger pointing. Command responsibility is clear.

The maximum number of signatories in any document will be limited to three.

Appropriate working schedules will be adopted to ensure that all applicants or requesting parties who are within the office’s premises prior to the end of official working hours are attended to, even during lunch break and after regular working hours.

Each agency should have a public assistance or complaints desk which shall be set up to effectively receive feedback and monitor customer satisfaction.

An original application or request for the issuance of a license, permit, certification or authorization is deemed automatically approved if the government office fails to act on it within the prescribed processing time provided that all the required documents have been submitted and all the required fees and charges have been paid.

There will be a single or Unified Business Application Form for processing new applications for business permits and business renewals.

A business one-stop shop (BOSS) is to be established which will serve as the city or municipality’s business permitting and licensing system. It will receive and process manual and/or electronic submission of applications for license, clearance, permit or authorization. LGU are mandated to co-locate the treasurer’s office, assessor’s office, business permits and licensing office, zoning office, including the Bureau of Fire Protection servicing office, and other relevant offices and departments engaged in starting a business, dealing with construction permits, and such other pertinent services as may be offered to the public.

Barangay clearances and permits related to doing business shall likewise be applied, issued and collected at the city or municipality within the prescribed processing time of this law.

For violations of the law, the penalty for the first offense — administrative liability with six months suspension. However, in the case of fixing or collusion with fixers, the Revised Penal Code shall apply. For the second offense — administrative and criminal liability of dismissal from the service, perpetual disqualification from holding public office, forfeiture of retirement benefits and imprisonment of one year to six years with a fine of not less than P500,000 but not more than P2,000,000.

In terms of law, the EODB-EGSD Act of 2018 is sufficient to effectively fight and curb red tape. However, a law is only as good as its implementation. Implementation in turn is only as good as the people carrying it out.

The office primarily tasked with fighting red tape is the Anti-Red Tape Authority. It is fortunately headed by a person whom I know very well to be competent, honest, God-fearing and with the courage and political will to effectively fight red tape — Atty. Jeremiah Belgica. In his barely two months in office, he has caused the establishment of several BOSS, brought awareness of the requirements of the law to government agencies and business groups, and has gone after those who have violated the anti-red tape law.

However, we must all realize that the problem of red tape is enormous, and one government agency doing it alone cannot solve it all within the short term. Citizens must come in to try to help educate all about one’s rights under the law, and complain against those who violate them. Red tape persists not only because certain people in government cause it, but also because certain citizens allow it. It is my belief that one who does not complain about an inefficient and corrupt system actually helps perpetuate it. As is often quoted, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The bottom line: we have a good law to fight red tape, we have a government agency tasked to do it, but we need the participation of the citizenry to ultimately win the fight against red tape.

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