ARTA files cases against 4 Register of Deeds officials

The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) has electronically filed cases against four Register of Deeds officials before the Office of the Ombudsman for implementing cut-offs during work hours and other ease of doing business violations.

The cases filed by ARTA against four Register of Deeds officials before the Office of the Ombudsman for cut-off imposition, other ease of doing business law violations (Photo from ARTA)

In a statement, ARTA said it has recommended the filing of administrative charges against Atty. Neil Tabbu, Acting Deputy Registrar of Deeds of Caloocan City, on May 20 for violation of Section 21, in relation to Section 8, 22, and 24 of the Ease of Doing Business Act.

ARTA investigators found Tabbu to be implementing a cut-off from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. only, with signage even indicating the said hours, when work hours should be set until 5 p.m. It was also found that the office is closed on Fridays for disinfection.

The surprise investigation on February 23 showed that there was also no queuing system in the office, leading to overcrowding and long queues.

On February 26, Tabbu wrote a letter to ARTA explaining that the documents they handle were subjected to UV disinfection that could take up to four hours, which leads to the delay of processing and the long queue of clients.

He added that the office's employees even go to work an hour before their duty hours and receive the requirements of everyone in the queue before the cut-off, just to ensure that everyone is accommodated.

"It is humbly submitted that the Office closes at 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon with no single registrant in the premises that was not properly advised or taken care of," Tabbu wrote in his explanation to ARTA.

However, ARTA said the imposition of cut-off hours was a clear violation of the law. It also called the office's UV disinfection measure "highly preposterous and dangerous" as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that using UV for a maximum of 30 minutes was enough for proper disinfection.

It also ran counter to the prescribed processing time of government offices of 25 to 35 minutes per the 2019 Citizen's Charter of the Land Registration Authority (LRA).

Meanwhile, ARTA also filed a case against Atty. Marissa Timones, Registrar of Deeds of the City of Manila, for be implementing a cut-off during a surprise inspection by ARTA on February 19.

After being notified of the situation, ARTA Director-General Jeremiah Belgica confronted Timones during a Zoom meeting that was streamed live on Facebook.

Timones admitted that it was her directive to impose a cut-off wherein they will no longer accept clients. She, however, argued that the move was pursuant to law, citing a memorandum dated October 22, 2020, and the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Anti-Red Tape Act.

In her letters to ARTA dated February 23 and March 3, she argued that the law does not explicitly state that government offices must accept clients until 5 p.m., so the employees' last two working hours for the day are used to accommodate clients who were in line before the cut-off.

"It is undisputed that there is a deliberate act on the part of the Register of Deeds from refusing to entertain its clients within official office hours pursuant to Atty. Timones' memorandum," ARTA said in a verified administrative complaint dated May 10.

"Much worse, clients were even prevented from entering its premises starting 3:00 p.m., which is a clear violation of Section 21 (f) of R.A. No. 11032," it furthered.

ARTA said the act was even streamed, recorded, and published on the agency's official Facebook page.

The office was also found to be in violation of the Zero-Contact Policy and refusal to accept application or request with complete requirements being submitted by an applicant or requesting party without due cause, both of which Timones denied.

Meanwhile, ARTA also filed a case against Dinna Mantuano-Lao, Registrar of Deeds of Malabon and Navotas, for the same violations as the Registrar of Deeds of the City of Manila, including the closure of the office on Fridays for disinfection.

However, ARTA said there were no disinfection teams when they conducted a surprise inspection on March 5 but the office was indeed closed.

Mantuano-Lao was issued a show-cause order and was given until March 10 to explain the violations, but she did not respond.

Melbian Jerome Laraño, Deputy Registrar of Deeds of Calamba, Laguna is also facing a case for violation of Section 21 (a) and (b) of the Anti-Red Tape Act and Section 5 (d) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The case stemmed from a complaint by Miguel Cano. In ARTA's endorsement of his complaint, it was said that Cano's agent, Mary Rose Matabang, went to the Register of Deeds of Calamba, Laguna to pay the registration fee for a parcel of land.

However, the frontline staff did not accept the submitted requirements and erroneously said that the Deed of Sale requires signatures from two witnesses.

When Cano spoke with Laraño through the phone, the latter allegedly told him in a "threatening voice" that he can deny the registration because of his submission of incomplete requirements.