Calibrating the Ease of Doing Business in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Genie Celini D. Nuevo

With the Philippine economy battling a raging pandemic, there is a great imperative to help business entities weather the crisis by easing the process of doing business. Cognizant of this, the Anti Red Tape Authority (ARTA) issued Memorandum Circular No. 6 Series of 2020 which provides for the guidelines on the issuance of permits and licenses under the “new normal.”

It complements Republic Act (RA) No. 11032, otherwise known as the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018. The memorandum circular was issued to impress the urgency of updating regulatory procedures and documentary requirements of most government agencies as they are not designed to adapt to the “new normal” of physical distancing and limited mobility brought about by the COVID-19. It likewise highlighted that the current pandemic is not an excuse for government agencies not to adhere to the prescribed processing times.

Under RA 11032, government agencies are mandated to render service within the prescribed processing time of three days for simple transactions, seven days for complex transactions, and 20 working days for highly technical transactions or for applications or requests involving activities which pose danger to public health, public safety, public morals and public policy, as classified in their respective Citizen’s Charter. Pursuant to the automatic approval provision, after the lapse of the prescribed processing times, all remaining unacted applications, where the submitted requirements are complete and the appropriate fees paid, shall be deemed automatically approved. In view thereof, the ARTA, through the memorandum circular, underlined that the burden is now shifted to the government agencies, who must act on the application within the prescribed processing time stated under their respective Citizen’s Charters. The presumption that the application is complete and is in order shall prevail, unless there is a notice of disapproval or a notice requesting for extension from the concerned government agencies duly received by the applicant within the prescribed processing time.

While the government adheres to the Zero-Contact Policy in the processing of applications, the memorandum circular emphasized that it should not be used as a tool in denying government service to the transacting public who are requesting for information on their applications. Government agencies are encouraged to use e-mail, their website, or hotlines to address inquiries of applicants. They are likewise required to set up an online processing system and payment gateway for accepting applications and digital payments for permits, licenses, and clearances.

Unless considered strictly necessary, requirements for meetings or interviews with the applicant shall be removed. For low risk applications, a self-declaration may be required from the applicant, in lieu of an inspection. The use of available secure technological platforms for inspections, the conduct of one-time joint inspection when possible, deputizing other government agencies to conduct the inspections for the other, and other appropriate alternative modes of inspection, are also means which the various government agencies can utilize to adapt to the new normal. If the conduct of physical inspection is a mandatory and non-negotiable requirement, government agencies are required to strictly observe contactless inspections and adhere to minimum public health standards as defined under the Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines to suppress transmission of COVID-19.

Consistent with the Whole of Government Approach, which advocates for different government agencies to work together and integrate their processes, the ARTA strongly recommended in the memorandum circular data sharing among government agencies. Data sharing allows for government agencies to have up-to-date and readily available information for the efficient delivery of government services and to calibrate their responses to the current needs of the public. More importantly, it allows for the unhampered exchange of information between government agencies requiring the same information and documentary requirements, which will in turn ease the burden of applicants from having to comply with duplicate submission of documents that have already been provided as part of the application process by other government agencies.

With the simplification and streamlining of the business processes, it is hoped that business entities will have the much needed assistance in navigating through the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and allow them to focus on assisting the government in sustaining the economy. In the long term, if the guidelines in the memorandum circular are properly adhered to it will also support the groundwork to increase the productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of government agencies in cultivating a thriving business climate.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion.

Genie Celini D. Nuevo is a Senior Associate of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW), Davao Branch. ACCRALAW’s Head Office is located at Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.

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