Congress bicam panel clears way for telcos’ cell towers as part of Bayanihan 2 COVID-19 response package 

Published August 15, 2020, 10:21 AM

by Mario Casayuran

The bicameral conference on the proposed Bayanihan 2 bill has cleared the way for the early installation of cell towers in the country when it adopted a proposal of Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon suspending permits sought by telecommunications companies (telcos) for three years.

Senator Franklin Drilon (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Drilon said the current complex requirements for permits remain “the biggest stumbling block for more reliable and faster internet and telecommunication services in the country.”  

The bicameral conference committee (bicam), led by Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara and House Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte, adopted Drilon’s proposal to suspend certain permits for three years, except the building permit, during the panel’s first meeting on Friday to reconcile the disagreeing provisions of the Senate and House versions of the proposed Bayanihan 2.

 In case of refusal of homeowners’ associations to allow telco towers, a referendum, supervised by the barangay council, could be called in the subdivision to decide on the issue, Drilon said.

Drilon noted that there are about 29 to 35 documentary requirements and permits before a single tower could be built in a subdivision, barangay or town.

These permits include consent of the neighbors, barangay resolution, certificate of non-coverage, zoning clearance, height clearance, radiation evaluation studies, building permit, a city or municipal resolution, occupancy permit, mayor’s permit, memorandum of agreement with Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-NIPAS, among others. 

“With this amendment, we can address this very complex process that hinders the country from being at par with our neighboring countries in terms of internet speed and connectivity. It is deplorable that the Philippines continues to have one of the slowest internet connections in Southeast Asia and even among Asia Pacific countries,” Drilon said. 

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala of Globe Telecom Inc. lauded Drilon’s move to simplify requirements for the construction of telco towers.

“Thank you for the extraordinary addition of simplifying the permits needed for telco infrastructure into the law. I cannot tell you how important this is. A very big thank you from all of us in the industry,” Zobel de Ayala said in a text message to Drilon.  

“In the face of a pandemic, having a reliable telecommunication would play a vital role in our transitioning to what they call a new normal, by providing continued access to government services and maintaining business operations,” Drilon said. 

“Internet today has become a basic commodity. It is a tool that we can utilize for work and education as we deal with the pandemic. Many businesses today are heavily dependent on the internet. Hence, we must do everything to improve our telecommunication infrastructure which telcos have agreed to readily provide,” Drilon said.  

Drilon stated that reliable and faster telecommunication service is what the government needs to successfully implement the Department of Education’s (DepEd’s) online and blended learning strategies.   

“The three-year reprieve period would give telcos sufficient time to complete the infrastructure required to improve their services,” he said.  

Telcos often cite the difficulty in getting clearances and permits to build cell sites and towers, which can take years to complete.   

Drilon also proposed a provision which says that “no court, except the Supreme Court, shall issue any temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction against the construction of telecommunications infrastructure, including cell sites and cell towers.”