Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri backed the Anti-Red Tape Authority, after Ombudsman Samuel Martires urged Congress to repeal the law creating it, citing encroachment on the Ombudsman’s powers.
Zubiri said abolishing the ARTA would be steps backward in the wrong direction, adding that reducing red tape and improving ease of doing business are best practices in other countries that attract investors.
He said ARTA is “embattled” because it “ruffles a lot of feathers” in performing its job. Zubiri offered to participate and assist in a dialogue between ARTA and the Office of the Ombudsman.
"Unfortunately, when they do their job, it ruffles a lot of feathers,” Zubiri said during the Senate Finance Subcommittee’s deliberations on the proposed 2023 budget for ARTA.
"It pains me to see that there are still agencies that are still giving this law a difficult time. Recently the Ombudsman had come out asking for the repeal and to abolish the agency, which I think is 1,000 steps backward to the wrong direction,” he added.
"You have our support in the Senate. But we need to dialogue because it is quite alarming that they are already making certain statements, and of course, that may erode the powers, and I’d say, reputation of the agency. It has a chilling effect to the agency, especially on how you will conduct now your mandate as the champion against red tape,” Zubiri said.
“If we want foreign direct investments to come in here in the country, even local direct investment, we need this law in place,” he added.
ARTA Officer-in-Charge and Deputy Director General for Operations Ernesto Perez told the subcommittee that the agency has already communicated with the Office of the Ombudsman to seek a dialogue.
In a letter, ARTA said it is not encroaching on the Ombudsman’s authority.
"We are not encroaching on the jurisdiction, because when we file cases, we file it either with the Office of the Ombudsman, based on our findings, or with the Civil Service Commission,” Perez said.
"I want you also to present this to the President, because the President, when I spoke to him about this… parang he mentioned na maybe the Ombudsman has merit… I have to sit down with him, with all of you to present this, and let him ask you questions also,” Zubiri suggested.
He also urged the Trade Secretary to express support for ARTA.
“Sometimes, when you do good things and there are large waves out there trying to stop you, and bumps on the road, just ignore them and full speed ahead. Just continue and we will do our best to help you,” Zubiri assured ARTA.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, asked whether ARTA and the Civil Service Commission’s functions overlap, noting that the top five complaints received by CSC are about slow processing in government offices or their failure to act on requests.
The CSC said talks between commission and ARTA are ongoing to further delineate their respective duties and responsibilities, and prevent an overlapping of functions. But it stressed that ARTA files recommendations on complaints to either to the CSC or the Office of the Ombudsman.
"Under RA 11032, the Civil Service Commission is one of the bodies where the ARTA can file the complaint for violation of RA 11032. Dalawang agencies lang ang considered doon as disciplinary authorities, ‘yung isa Office of the Ombudsman, ‘yung isa Civil Service Commission. So kapag presidential appointees, automatic Office of the Ombudsman ‘yun, pero ‘pag non-presidential appointees, they can file this with us,” CSC Assistant Commissioner Ariel Ronquillo replied.
"Pina-plantsa po namin, para hindi po kami nagsasapawan ng jurisdiction,” he added.
The CSC also said the conduct of the report card survey has been transferred to ARTA, but its results will be forwarded to the commission for analysis on interventions needed to improve public service.
ARTA requested the Senate to augment its proposed 2023 budget by P150 million, noting that the budget allocated by the Department of Budget and Management is insufficient to run the operations of its regional offices.
ARTA has a proposed 2023 budget of P266.5 million under the National Expenditure Program, less than half of the P801.79 million it requested.
The Senate subcommittee approved on Thursday the proposed 2023 budget for ARTA.