MANILA - Only 7 out of nearly 4,000 complaints have been filed in court 2 years since a law guaranteeing ease of doing business in the country was passed, the head of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) told the Senate Thursday.
As of August 31 of this year only 7 cases of the 3,924 complaints lodged before ARTA have been filed in court, ARTA Director General Jeremiah Belgica said during the agency's budget hearing in the Senate.
The agency is mandated to ensure enforcement of the law and that transactions with government agencies are fast and efficient.
"Ang pumapasok sa amin [na complaints] ay by the thousands pero hindi lahat sila nagiging cases kasi marami sa kanila ang nagre-respond po," Belgica told senators when asked about the few cases ARTA has filed against erring government offices.
(Complaints come in by the thousands but not all become cases because many agencies respond.)
"We are also a bit challenged when it comes to manpower. We only have 4 lawyers at our disposal," he said.
The scrutiny of ARTA's performance comes a day after President Rodrigo Duterte met with Congress leaders in Malacañang to ask for a new law that would cut red tape and corruption in government offices.
"The Ease of Doing Business Law is more than enough. The problem is it's not being implemented properly and there have been little or no cases filed against erring government personnel in violation of the law," Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who championed the said law in the 17th Congress, said in a statement.
Belgica told Zubiri that the ARTA needs "to have a formal investigation power that has subpoena and contempt power," and even the authority to issue "preventive suspensions."
"'Yung iba po kasi nagque-qeustion pa (Some government agencies even question us). They even try to challenge us in court," he said.
"You have to put a stop to that. You have to be the enforcer that you are supposed to be," Zubiri said.
"You have to be the bruiser, the guy they are afraid of, the boogeyman," he said.
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that the power to "suspend people across the bureaucracy" may not be delegated to ARTA because it is only reserved for the President and the Ombudsman.
The ARTA is an office under the Office of the President.
"We placed you in that pedestal so you will be able to directly report to the President," Zubiri said.
"You should reach out now. If the President has mentioned about his frustrations, that is a slap to our faces," he said.
The ARTA may also seek the Senate's help in dealing with government agencies that refuse to cooperate with the anti-red tape agency, he said.
"You can also approach us because we have oversight functions... sa budget hearings babanatan ko sila (I will hit them in the budget hearings)," the Senate Majority Leader said.
"If an agency is giving you a hard time, we can ask the agency to explain themselves and move their budgets to a later date," he said.
As of August 31, among those who were charged with cases for violating the Ease of Doing Business Act are as follows:
- Camarines Norte Governor Edgardo Tallado
- San Nicolas, Batangas Mayor Lester De Sagun
- a cashier from the Registry of Deeds in Davao City
- an official from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB)
- the Registrar of Deeds of San Pablo, Laguna
The ARTA should also go after national agencies, Sen. Imee Marcos said.
"Ang problema hindi ninyo naman sinisita 'yung mga top agency na laging nirereklamo," Marcos said.
(The problem is you don't cite the top agencies that are always the subject of complaints.)
"Ang binu-bully lang daw 'yung mga hamak na local government agency," she said, quoting anecdotes from her contacts.
(Only local government agencies are allegedly bullied.)
Among national agencies with the most number of complaints related to red tape are the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the LTFRB, the Social Security System and the Department of Labor and Employment.
But Belgica said that the number of complaints against an agency does not determine how prevalent red-tape is in an office.
Agencies that frequently transact with individuals get more complaints than those dealing with corporations, Belgica said.
"Minsan naman ho walang masyadong complaints pero red tape-ridden pa din ['yung office]. Hindi na lang nila pinapaabot [sa ARTA]," he said.
(Sometimes there aren't so many complaints but the agency is still red tape-ridden. It's just not reported to ARTA.)
Senators present in the hearing agreed to back ARTA's efforts against red tape, noting that the agency is still "new."
"I think more cases should be filed versus these individuals lalo sa (especially in) national agencies," Zubiri said.
"Seven cases is not really impressive," he said.