Ombudsman dismisses ARTA officials over telco’s grave misconduct complaint
MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed five Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) officials, including former director general Jeremiah Belgica, for supposedly favoring a specific telecommunications company in finding a new major player in the industry.
In a decision released on Thursday and signed by Ombudsman Samuel Martires last March 3, 2023, Belgica and four other officials were found guilty of grave misconduct as they had the intent to violate the law when they issued an ARTA Resolution in March 2021, assigning frequencies to NOW Tel — a company that sought to be the new major telco player.
DITO Telecommunity Inc., which eventually become the new major player, filed the complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman.
According to the complainants, Belgica and four other officials allegedly favored and provided special treatment to NOW Tel during the selection process conducted by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).
The Ombudsman said that such a selection cannot be done as NOW Tel had unpaid fees that it should have settled first.
“It bears noting that the respondents were also made aware that in the 28 December 2005 Consolidated Order as well as the 03 January 2006 order issued by NTC, NOW Tel was already found to be disqualified and cannot be assigned with 3G frequencies due to its outstanding SUF (Spectrum User Fee) and SRF (Supervision and Regulation Fee),” the Ombudsman’s decision read.
“Apparently, with the unpaid obligation, NOW Tel’s application for a 3G frequency is still incomplete. Notwithstanding that and in an obvious favoritism to NOW Tel, respondents, through the 01 March 2021 ARTA Resolution and OAA, assigned the contingent frequencies identified for the use of international mobile telecommunications or 3G mobile telecommunications in the Philippines,” it added.
Aside from Belgica, the four other ARTA officials dismissed are:
- Deputy Director General Eduardo Bringas
- Director Jedreck Ng
- Director Melamy Salvadora-Asperin
- Division Chief Sheryl Pura-Sumagui
All five have been dismissed from their posts and were perpetually disqualified from holding public office, as their civil service eligibility were canceled. Also, retirement benefits of the five ARTA officials were forfeited.
Should implementing the penalty be impossible, the defendants will be ordered to pay a fine amounting to one year of their salary.
Belgica in June 2022 appealed to the Ombudsman, noting that the agency is not in-charge of approving telecommunication contracts — as they are only present to solve supposed choke points in the delivery of government services.
According to Belgica, it is the NTC — and not them — who can assign frequencies.
“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.
(I just want to clarify that it is not ARTA who approves applications. We do not have the power to give frequencies or provisional authority. The approval or denial of an application depends on the agency — but if it is left hanging by the government, that’s when ARTA comes in.)
“Wala ho kaming intensyon na kunin ang kahit anong kapangyarihan ng NTC na pag-assign ng frequency sa NOWTel,” he added.
(We do not have the intention of usurping from NTC the power to assign a frequency to NOWTel.)