NOW affiliates seek NTC’s suspension as Ombudsman probes ARTA officials for alleged graft

Affiliates of NOW Telecom Company, Inc. (NOW Tel) have waged a legal battle against the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) as the issue of alleged graft and corruption between the company, and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) came to light.

NOW Telecom affiliates NOW Cable, Inc. and News at Entertainment Network Corp. go to the Office of the Ombudsman on June 9, 2022, seeking to suspend the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) after the Ombudsman ordered the six-month preventive suspension of executives of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) for alleged graft and corruption for ARTA’s alleged preference for NOW Telecom over DITO Telecommunity.

NOW affiliates NOW Cable, Inc., and News at Entertainment Network Corp. went to the Office of the Ombudsman on June 9, seeking to suspend the NTC.

The NOW Media Group made this move after the Ombudsman suspended ARTA Director-General Jeremiah Belgica and four other ARTA executives after DITO Telecommunity accused them of Grave Misconduct, Gross Neglect of Duty, and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.

DITO’s accusations stemmed from ARTA’s supposed preferential treatment favoring NOW Tel. The preferential treatment was evidenced by ARTA’s Resolution and Order of Automatic Approval assigning Contingent Frequencies in favor of NOW Tel, which came after the government awarded the same frequencies to DITO as the country’s new telco major player.

In the suspension order, Ombudsman Samuel Martires wrote that “the evidence on record shows that the guilt of respondents… is strong,” and the charges against them “may warrant removal from the service.”

The unserved suspension will be converted into fines equivalent to the respective monthly salary of the ARTA directors for six months since they are coterminous with the term of President Duterte, whose term will end on June 30.

The NTC has been asked for its statement but has yet to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, ARTA did not have a particular comment on this move of NOW Media Group but maintained that the suspended officials were only doing their job.

“No comment on this particular story. But we maintain that what our officials at ARTA did was above board, discharging only their regular functions per Republic Act No. 11032 or Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018,” ARTA said.

“Our officials only looked at the completeness of documents related to the complained application. ARTA does not issue any license, permit, clearance, certification, or authorization,” it added.

Section 10 of the Ease of Doing Business Act provides that an application that has not been acted upon within the prescribed processing time is automatically approved if all required documents have been submitted and all required fees have been paid.

Government offices have three days to act on simple transactions, seven days for complex transactions, and 20 days for highly technical transactions.

In a statement, Belgica denied his involvement in ARTA’s Resolution and Order of Automatic Approval assigning Contingent Frequencies in favor of NOW Tel for not being a signatory to the said issuances.

He added that they were suspended merely because ARTA acted on the complaint NOW Telecom filed with ARTA on May 30, 2020, citing the automatic approval provision of the law.

ARTA officials and employees have rallied behind Belgica and the other executives suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman over the issue.

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