13 January 2022 – After only three years since it was established, the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) has initiated many reforms and worked with several government agencies and its other developmental partners to improve the country’s competitiveness.

Secretary Jeremiah B. Belgica, ARTA Director General, said that with the agency’s unique twin functions of empowerment and enforcement, it is able to take a more holistic approach in improving the country’s government services, doing business, and overall competitiveness.

“Red tape is a long-standing problem that can penetrate all sectors of society. We, at ARTA, firmly believe that by eliminating this problem and subjecting government processes to continuous review and streamlining, the Philippines will see drastic improvements in its state of doing business and competitiveness,” he said.

“From where I stand, it is important that both the empowerment and enforcement functions be used by the government in cutting red tape and making government services more efficient,” he added.

Empowerment, enforcement

In 2020, ARTA launched its flagship NEHEMIA Program or the National Effort for the Harmonization of Efficiency Measures of Inter-related Agencies. It aims to cut down the processing time, requirements, and steps in each sector by 52 percent in 52 weeks.

For the first phase of this program, it focused on five priority sectors: Telco, Logistics, Food and Pharma, Housing, and Energy.

Through this program, the Authority has coordinated with various government agencies and members of the private sector to draft Memorandum Circulars (MCs) and Joint Memorandum Circulars (JMCs) that provide guidelines on the streamlined processing of documents in the said sectors.

So far, it has released 12 JMCs, including issuances providing guidelines on the automation of business one-stop shops (eBOSS); the issuance and/or reinstitution of permits and licenses in the “new normal”; the creation of a bayanihan one-stop shop for securing a license to operate to import critical COVID-19 commodities for commercial distribution; and the mandatory online filing, processing, and payment of port charges, cargo handling charges, other cargo handling-related charges, permits and ancillary fees, and customs taxes and duties.

It also released JMCs providing streamlined guidelines on the processing of documents for the construction of Shared Passive Telecommunications Tower Infrastructures (PTTIs); erection of poles, construction of underground fiber ducts, and installation of aerial and underground cables and facilities; establishment of a green lane for a vaccine manufacturing facility; suspension of LGU imposition and collection of illegal pass-through fees; processing of uniformed services benefit claims; and processing of construction-related permits in 2020.

On 12 January 2022, ARTA led various government agencies in signing the JMC on the Unified Logistics Pass, which will facilitate the unhampered movement of trucks for hire that delivery basic goods and necessities across the country through a unified application form.

A JMC that aims to streamline guidelines in the socialized housing sector is also set to be signed this year.

Another major project that ARTA was a part of was the launch of the Central Business Portal (CBP), a sole digital platform for registering businesses in the country. This was established by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

The CBP has reduced the length of days for registering businesses across the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), LGUs, and social agencies from 33 days and 13 steps to only three days. ARTA Sec. Belgica said they are eyeing to further cut the length of days needed down to only a day by the end of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s term.

Since its launch on January 2021, at least 287 private corporations have registered in the CBP. There are also at least 267 hyperlinked LGUs, 17 integrated LGUs, six primary agencies, and one secondary agency in the platform.

The Authority also launched the Report Card Survey (RCS) 2.0 in a bid to improve the measurement of the effective implementation of the Citizen’s Charter and the efficient delivery of government service. The RCS 2.0 is a holistic tool that is aimed at reducing regulatory burdens. It can be conducted both online and on-site and will examine three core areas: institutionalization of R.A. No. 11032 mandates, overall client satisfaction, and agency performance and recognition.

The RCS was initially overseen by the Civil Service Commission (CSC). But with the enactment of R.A. 11032, Section 20 stated that ARTA is now responsible for its implementation, in coordination with the CSC and Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

On the enforcement side, data from ARTA showed that it has conducted 16 entrapment operations in partnership with the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) and arrested 23 fixers.

Over 50 fixers have also been arrested in various entrapments initiated by other government agencies and local government units, such as the Land Transportation Office (LTO), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Pasig City government, following ARTA’s intensified series of operations.

ARTA has also filed 551 cases against violators of Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018.

Apart from this, the agency also acted on 8,848 complaints.

At least 8,507 permits, licenses, clearances, and certifications were also automatically renewed or released as of 23 December 2021.

Whole-of-nation approach

The NEHEMIA Program is in line with the Authority’s desire to implement a “whole-of-nation” approach against red tape. Apart from working with government agencies, it has enlisted several volunteers, which includes 13 organizations that committed to serve as ARTA Champions and 26 multi-sectoral organizations.

ARTA Champions are given the responsibility of receiving red tape-related complaints and concerns that they can turn over to the agency for further action. Meanwhile, ARTA volunteers provide the Authority with general support.

“The problem that we are trying to address is a massive one. It cannot be solved by just one government agency. We need the combined strength of the whole government, members of the private sector, and the public to be effective in our fight against red tape,” ARTA Sec. Belgica said. “Each one of us has a role to play, and we must play it well.”

The Authority has also been recognized by foreign governments. In 2020, ARTA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United Kingdom government for the conduct of regulatory reform projects. Among the key initiatives borne out of the MOU were the creation of the Philippine Good Regulatory Principles (PGRP) and the Whole-of-Government (WOG) Reengineering Manual.

Another foreign government that entered into an arrangement with the Authority is the New Zealand government. The partnership, that was forged through the New Zealand Government to Government (G2G) Partnerships, Limited, seeks to strengthen Philippine-New Zealand relations and boost their efforts in the fields of ease of doing business and public sector efficiency.

ARTA has also conducted a total of 156 Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) trainings for other government agencies to capacitate them and ensure their compliance with sound regulatory practices.

Of this figure, 79 are from the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) track, 24 are from the University of the Philippines Public Administration Research and Extension Services Foundation, Inc.-Regulatory Support Program for National Development (UPPAF-RESPOND) track, and 53 are from the Executive Seminar on the Regulatory Management System (RMS)/RIA. These trainings covered 858 civil servants for this year alone compared to the 219 in 2019 and 174 in 2020.

The agency is hoping that through its various trainings, the Philippines will graduate from the starter to the enabled stage in the Regulatory Management System levels of maturity by the end of the Presiden’s term.

The ARTA chief also said that the agency’s various initiatives is cutting across the different branches of government, as evidenced by the government agencies implementing reforms on their own without the Authority’s instruction.

ARTA Sec. Belgica noted that even the Commission on Audit (COA) threw its support behind the Authority for its efforts in institutionalizing digital payments and electronic signatures in the delivery of government services.

“We can see that all government branches, instrumentalities, and even Constitutional bodies are now heeding the call and challenge of streamlining of government services,” he said.

PH EODB Reporting System

This month, ARTA is also slated to sign the JMC on Philippine Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Reporting System, a version of the World Bank Group’s (WBG) annual Doing Business (DB) report that employs the use of a localized methodology and criteria.

The Philippine EODB Reporting System will measure the quality of regulatory reforms of government agencies and will measure their compliance with the provisions of R.A. 11032.

ARTA initiated discussions on the localized report after the WBG discontinued its DB report following incidents of data irregularities.

It can be recalled that ARTA Sec. Belgica called for a review of the DB report due to its limited scope.

“The World Bank’s DB survey became a very useful tool for investors and lenders to gauge whether a country is worth their resources. It was one of their important indicators on whether a country is really conducive to doing business. It is important to note, however, that the study had a very limited scope, which is not enough to capture the entirety of what is happening to an entire economy or how business or investment-ready it might be,” ARTA Sec. Belgica said in one of his column entries in the Manila Times.

The Anti-Red Tape Secretary said that the small-claims courts initiative by the Supreme Court, which cut down the number of hearing days from what would usually take two years to only 30 days, was not captured by the WBG’s DB report, even if it could have boosted the country’s score in the enforcing of contracts indicator.

Another limitation is that its starting a business indicator is limited to the city in the country that has the greatest number of registered businesses. In the Philippines’ case, this is Quezon City in the National Capital Region (NCR). While ARTA has recognized the Quezon City government for implementing reforms in streamlining and automation of the business permitting system, it also acknowledged that there were other cities in the country that have established their own efficient business permitting systems. However, the efforts of these other cities were not accounted for in the DB report.

ARTA Sec. Belgica also said the state of doing business and competitiveness of a country should not be determined with a one-size-fits-all measurement because each country starts off on a different level in the playing field and has unique experiences and cultures that affect their standing in the DB report.

Despite these limitations, the Philippines was still able to climb in the international ranking. In 2016, the Duterte administration inherited a Doing Business score of 58.2, ranking 103rd out of 189 countries. Since then, the Philippines’ standing continuously improved until it reached the 62.8 score in 2020, placing 95th out of 190 countries.

The said limitations will be addressed in the Philippine EODB Reporting System that is tailor-fit to the Philippine setting, the ARTA czar assured. He also stressed that the localized DB report will not be a way to chase high rankings but will be an instrument to implement reforms that will be felt by Filipinos on the ground.