ARTA officials appeal suspension: We do not approve telco applications
MANILA, Philippines — Officials of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) have appealed the preventive suspension order handed down by the Office of the Ombudsman, asserting they are not involved in approving contracts of telecommunication companies.
After filing their counter-affidavit and appeal on Monday, ARTA Director-General Jeremiah Belgica read a statement opposing the complaints lodged against them by a telecommunications firm that claimed the officials gave preferential treatment to a New Major Player (NMP).
According to the complainants, Belgica and four other officials allegedly favored and provided special treatment to the NMP during the selection process conducted by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
“Lilinawin ko lang po na hindi ang ARTA ang naga-approve ng aplikasyon. Hindi kami ang may kapangyarihan na magbigay ng frequencies or provisional authority. Ang approval o denial ng application ay nakadepende sa ahensya pero kung hindi ito naaksyunan, doon pumapasok ang aplikasyon ng batas,” Belgica said.
“Wala ho kaming intensyon na kunin ang kahit anong kapangyarihan ng NTC na pag-assign ng frequency sa NOWTel,” he added.
Belgica said the case started when they gave an Order of Automatic Approval to NOWTel after the NTC granted the telco firm’s request for the issuance of provisional authority to install, operate, and maintain a mobile telecommunications system (CMTS PA), and “a provisional authority to operate a fixed wired broadband access for wireless communications network.”
But despite being granted the following requirements, the NTC failed to provide frequencies to NOWTel, prompting the company to seek ARTA’s help. After ARTA released the Order of Automatic Approval, another telecommunications company in DITO Telecommunity filed a case before the Office of the Ombudsman.
“Thus, constrained with a predicament of having legislative franchise and provisional authority but with no usable frequency, on May 30, 2020, NOWTel filed a Formal Complaint with ARTA citing the provisions of Sec. 10 of R.A. No. 11032 or the Automatic Approval of Permit, License, Clearance or Certification,” Belgica explained.
“However, while the case was pending with ARTA, on September 2020, NTC suddenly approved the Provisional Authority of NOWTel, but still with no appropriate usable CMTS frequencies which were part of the original application,” he added.
Belgica stressed ARTA’s mandate is only within examining if the requirements of a company or an entity doing business with the government have been complied with and why the transactions have not been approved.
“Ang kapangyarihan namin ay ang pagsusuri kung kumpleto ang inyong isinumite at hindi naaksyunan. Sinusuri namin sa aming mga pagdinig kung kumpleto na ba ang mga dokumento at nabayaran na ba ang mga kinakailangan bayaran upang maaprubahan ang kanilang inapplyan at upang malaman kung may pagkukulang na ginawa ang ahensya,” he said.
“Kung mapatunayan na hindi sumusunod ang mga ahensya sa batas, ito ay aming pinoproseso sa investigation and litigation office para sa pagsasampa ng kaso,” he added.
The Ombudsman has issued an order suspending Belgica and the other officials – Deputy Director-General Eduardo Bringas, Director Jedreck Ng, Director Melamy Salvadora-Asperin, and Division Chief Sheryl Pura-Sumagui – for six months.
The ARTA officials claimed they were also uncertain how such a suspension will be implemented since they are co-terminus with President Rodrigo Duterte, who will end his term on June 30.
But the Ombudsman said in a transmittal letter to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea that the six-month suspension should be converted to a fine amounting to “the respondent’s salary for a number of months corresponding to the period of suspension” if the concerned officials could no longer serve the suspension.
The letter was attached to the suspension order, which the Ombudsman sent to the Office of the Executive Secretary for immediate implementation since ARTA is under the Office of the President.
In the same June 3-letter, the Ombudsman added that the refusal or failure of any officer to comply with the order should be ground for disciplinary action.