ARTA throws support for suspended execs

Officials and employees of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) rallied behind Director-General Jeremiah Belgica and other executives suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman amid graft charges.

Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) Director-General Jeremiah Belgica (Photo from ARTA)

The ARTA made a stand after Ombudsman Samuel Martires ordered the six-month preventive suspension of Belgica, Undersecretary Eduardo Bringas, Legal Director Melamy Salvadora-Asperin, Legal Division Chief Sheryl Pura Sumagui, and former Legal Director Jedrek Ng.

In its statement, the ARTA stressed that the case affects the agency because the five suspended officials play critical roles in minimizing red tape and corruption in the government.

It added that the suspension order would question the agency's mandate and the validity of the Ease of Doing Business Act's automatic approval and renewal provision.

Despite this, ARTA prayed for the speedy resolution of the case and the vindication of its officials.

The ARTA - Employees' Association (ARTA-EA) likewise came out to show their support to Belgica and the four other officials.

The organization said it recognizes the mandate of the Ombudsman and expressed the belief that due process will be observed in resolving the case.

The ARTA-EA said the suspended employees exhibited strong political will, integrity, and commitment -- values required when implementing the law.

"These officials have exemplified throughout their tenure," it said.

"We believe that Secretary Belgica's brand of leadership that is anchored on integrity, accountability, and transparency has been one of the pillars that made possible the transformative milestones of the agency," it added.

On June 3, 2022, Martires ordered the preventive suspension of the said ARTA officials following a case filed by DITO Telecommunity Corporation questioning the agency's power to determine the surrounding facts leading to automatic approval and renewal of applications and requests.

The said officials filed their counter affidavit and motion for reconsideration on implementing the preventive suspension before the Office of the Ombudsman on June 6.

In a statement, ARTA Sec. Belgica clarified that the Authority does not have the power to assign permits, licenses, clearances, and frequencies. They can only remind agencies to either approve or deny applications submitted with complete requirements and payment within the prescribed processing time.

"Hindi kami ang may kapangyarihan na magbigay ng frequencies or provisional authority (We do not have the power to distribute frequencies or provisional authority)," he said.

"Ang approval o denial ng application ay nakadepende sa ahensya pero kung hindi ito naaksyunan, doon pumapasok ang aplikasyon ng batas (The approval or denial of an application depends on an agency but we have to apply the law if they won't act on the application)," he added.

Belgica stressed that the people in ARTA are not corrupt government workers.

"Hindi po kami korap. Ginagawa lang po namin ang aming trabaho. Kami po’y trabahante ng gobyerno (We are not corrupt. We are just doing our job. We are workers of the govenrment)," he said.

According to Belgica, they were suspended merely because ARTA applied the provisions of the Ease of Doing Business Act. He said ARTA only acted on the formal complaint NOW Telecom filed with ARTA on May 30, 2020, citing the automatic approval provision of the law.

Under the Ease of Doing Business Act, government offices have three days to act on simple transactions, seven days for complex transactions, and 20 days for highly technical transactions. Applications and requests submitted with complete requirements and full payment but not processed within the prescribed processing time shall be automatically approved and renewed under the law.