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Opinion

Red tape

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

Filipinos complain incessantly about red tape imposed by arcane government regulations, labyrinthine laws and corrupt and insensitive bureaucrats.

To combat red tape or at least to thwart the growing rage against crippling red tape in the bureaucracy, the government invented a panacea – the Anti-Red Tape Law, Republic Act 9485 of 2007, under president Gloria Arroyo and, after 11 years, Republic Act 11032, “The Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act” of May 2018, under president Rodrigo Duterte. The later law created the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), which was organized not in May 2018 but in July 2019, 14 months after the law was passed.

Why the delay? Red tape. Why the red tape? The ARTA implementing rules and regulations took a year to be promulgated, thanks to pussy-footing at the Department of Trade and Industry and the Civil Service Commission, the implementing agency for RA 9485.

The first ARTA director general, Jeremiah Belgica, was suspended for six months by Ombudsman Samuel Martires for allegedly favoring telcos at the expense of one newcomer.

Controversial, Martires was flexing his judicial powers over red tape. He is the same taciturn guy who ousted last September 2023 NAIA’s two otherwise competent managers on the complaint of anonymous complainants – GM Cesar Chiong and AGM Irene Montalbo. Thankfully, on March 21, 2024, the Court of Appeals reversed the ombudsman’s capricious decision. Chiong and Montalbo were fighting red tape and corruption at NAIA when dismissed by Martires.

After the dazzling duo’s ouster by Martires, bed bugs took over NAIA’s chairs while rats invaded its nooks and crannies. You know why? To rush a new airport pest control and janitorial contract before San Miguel Corp. takes over NAIA management over the next 15 years this September. That’s a novel way to cut red tape – with bugs and rats.

Our judiciary, by the way, is probably the most active practitioner of red tape. Normally – yes, normally – cases, from the lower courts to the highest court of the land, take decades to decide, if at all.

The oldest Supreme Court case in the Philippines took 25 years to decide. That’s not bad at all. The oldest case in the US Supreme Court took 60 years to decide. The civil case straddled the 20th and 21st centuries.

Did you know that the Philippines has more than 16,000 laws? Each law requires implementing rules and regulations (IRR). Since we have 30,000 practicing lawyers, we have one law for every two lawyers.

The current and permanent ARTA director general, lawyer Ernesto V. Perez, was appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Nov. 15, 2022. Prior to his permanent appointment, Perez was ARTA OIC for five months.  Isn’t that a sign of red tape?

Perez has been trying to move heaven and earth to cut red tape in the vast bureaucracy. So far, his job has been worse than accomplishing Hercules’ 12 tasks.

Right on Day One, ARTA violated its own supposedly sacrosanct rule – that simple transitions be completed within three days, complex transactions in seven days and highly technical transactions within 20 days – the 3/7/20 rule. ARTA took 365 days to be organized.

Organizing ARTA itself, it must be conceded, is a highly technical transaction. Therefore, it should have been set up within 20 days, per the ARTA rules, not 365 days.

Fortunately, ARTA DG Perez has the optimism and hope of an Aristotle and an Alexander Pope. Hope springs eternal.

If Filipinos think Philippine red tape is bad, they should look into German red tape.

I have been advocating that mayors issue business permit in ten minutes. No progress.

In Germany, according to a New York Times report, it takes 120 days to get a business license, more than double the average of the rich countries of the west.

In Singapore, according to the ambassador here, it takes only 15 minutes to get a business permit.

So rampant is red tape in Germany the International Monetary Fund has blamed red tape for the slow economic growth of Europe’s richest country, a mind-boggling less than 0.2 percent this year.

Pressure from the European Union prompted Germany this March to pass its own anti-red tape law, the nicely titled “The Fourth Bureaucracy Relief Act.” Not surprisingly, business companies have opposed the measure, because only 40 to 50 of 450 corporate anti-red tape proposals were incorporated into the law.

According to NYT, German companies spend 64 million hours every year filling out forms to feed the country’s 375 official databases.

The German government blames too many laws for its red tape. “We have reached a situation where, in many places, no one can carry out all the laws that we have created,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz was quoted by the Times.

But to reduce red tape, Scholz is proposing even more laws. The paperwork-reduction legislation is claimed to save companies and citizens about three million euros each year.

The legislation, for instance, will reduce the period companies need to retain official documents by two years and stop the practice of German citizens staying in German hotels having to complete registration forms.

In the Philippines, our motels do not require registration for guests who are couples seeking to enjoy happy hours or happy ending.

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Email: [email protected]

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RED TAPE

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