Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon thumbed down on Tuesday the Anti-Red Tape Authority’s (ARTA) request for additional powers for its enforcement of laws streamlining government processes.
The Senate Committee of Civil Service, Government Reorganization, and Professional Regulation was discussing the Senate Bill No. 1844, which seeks to grant the President of the Philippines the special power to expedite bureaucratic processes and suspend or waive the need to secure permits and licenses during national emergencies.
The ARTA had asked for the inclusion of the grant of authority for them to be able to file administrative and crminal charges, as well as subpoena and contempt powers, against officials and agencies that do not comply with the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Act.
ARTA Director-General Jeremiah Belgica explained that their power to streamline government transactions is only recommendatory and that concerned agencies are not mandated to adopt or implement their suggestions. Citing complaints reaching their agency, he pointed out that streamlining and automation of processes are key to solve red tape in the bureacracy.
Drilon, one of the authors of the bill, however, said he has “very serious reservations” on the ARTA’s proposal to “weaponize” the proposed law.
The minority leader said the ARTA, instead, should rethink its approach to addressing excessive bureaucracy.
“Maybe Mr. Director, you may wish to consider assisting the bureaucrats with their duties under the law,” Drilon told Belgica.
“My suggestion to you, is that, instead of filing cases as a first option, that should be the last. I would rather like to see you help the bureaucracy, the bureaucrats, by exposing them to management systems, and not keep on just threatening them.”
“Have systems experts, look at the process in a particular agency and suggest how to improve so that they can comply with the periods,” he suggested.
Drilon said solving red tape through the filing of charges might only end up in vain as this would involve tedious judicial processes. He also noted that government career officers and employees are protected under civil service laws and cannot easily be removed from office.
He advised the ARTA to veer from its “law and order” approach and help improve efficiency in government.
“Your first option should be to help the bureaucracy, help the professional career people. I tell you, these career people want to do their jobs, because they love to do their jobs and not because that cases will be filed against them. Mali po iyon (That’s wrong), considering filing of cases as the first option. That is the problem with your approach,” he said.
“My point is, to make the bureacracy more effective, it is not a law and order problem, it is not a matter of granting [powers] making the ARTA a quasijudicial body, the power to issue subpoena, cite for contempt, file cases, employ underground agents or assets…But I’m not saying that they should have no power to file cases, but it should be the last resort.”
“Our intention was to address the red tape and I’m sorry but I will never contemplate on this [bill] being treated as a criminal statute,” Drilon said.
Senator Cynthia Villar agreed with Drilon that the ARTA should focus first on helping in the system improvement and automation of the bureaucracy.
“I would like to warn him, that, coming from the business sector, no logical-minded businessman will file cases against his regulatory agency. I mean, that’s the reality you have to face, walang magdedemanda na isang businessman against the regulatory agency kasi lalo siyang mapapahamak doon (no businessman will file charges against the regulatory agency because it will just endanger them),” Villar said of Belgica’s appeal.
Villar also doubted that entities will file complaints and charges without divulging their identities. Belgica earlier said they have “secret filers” in ARTA.
“Pwede ba ‘yon (Is that possible)? Na nagfa-file ka ng cases hindi ka magpapakilala (That you will file a case without identifying yourself)? I dont think so,” she said.
“You will have a problem with that…You will be better off listening to Sen drilon that you help in system improvement and automation in the bureacracy. You will accomplish [from] there something, but in filing cases, I dont think [so],” she also told Belgica.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, on the other hand, said he supports efforts to empower the ARTA to further enforce the EODB law. He is also a co-author to the SB No. 1844.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian also backed ARTA’s request for subpoena and contempt powers to “give them a big stick and a whiplash to make sure that reforms will be implemented.”
“We have to strengthen also the watchdog and make sure that they have the proper ammunition to fight corruption,” Zubiri said.
Drilon, who asked his colleagues to maintain the original intent of the bill, had pointed out that Senate leaders wanted to give President Duterte the flexibility he needs to solve red tape and corruption.