THE government is targeting to hasten the construction of new common cell towers in the country by reducing the number of required permits.

Nine government agencies on Thursday signed a memorandum circular that streamlines requirements and speeds up the process of securing permits, licenses and clearances needed by companies to build the shared telecommunication towers.

“The guidelines aim to shorten the entire timeline — to a target period of 16 days, from the original period of over 200 days — for constructing shared passive telecommunication tower infrastructure (PTTI) by mobile network operators and independent tower companies… in order to facilitate accelerated rollout of telecommunication infrastructure,” the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said in a statement on Thursday.

The joint memorandum circular was signed by the DICT, Anti-Red Tape Authority, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

The new rules removed the following requirements for the construction of common towers: city or town resolution; barangay council resolution; environmental compliance certificate or certificate of non-coverage (if the proposed site is outside an environmentally critical area); radiation safety evaluation report from the FDA; and a certified true copy of provisional authority from the National Telecommunications Commission or certificate of public convenience and necessity or certificate of registration.

Instead of a certificate of occupancy, which according to the DICT “demands more stringent standards,” tower firms will be issued a certificate of use, which is easier to acquire from the Office of the Building Official.

The DICT said the Human Settlements department is drafting a separate issuance for locational clearance guidelines, which will still agree with the multi-agency circular.

Moreover, a height clearance permit for below 50-meter common towers located outside critical areas will no longer be required by the aviation regulator. Instead, tower firms will get an undertaking from a licensed geodetic engineer attesting that the infrastructure will be built outside critical areas identified by the agency.

Processing, approval and issuance of permits should be done within seven days or the periods required under the Republic Act No. 11032 or The Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018.

“Permits and clearances not approved within the prescribed periods shall be deemed automatically approved,” the DICT noted.

To avoid delays, the department said the permitting process among National Government agencies and local government units “will run parallel, with no permit from any office serving as a prerequisite before other permits are processed and issued.”

For monitoring purposes, local governments must inform the DICT about approval and disapproval of building permit applications for common towers.

Local governments are prohibited from requiring documents or clearances other than those enumerated by the joint memo, the DICT said.

“In these trying times, our country is calling on us, as those in government service, to render full assistance and cooperation, and mobilize the necessary resources to undertake critical, urgent, and appropriate measures to curtail and eliminate the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This joint memorandum circular is a testament to the convergent efforts of the government to institute measures that will greatly redound to the benefit of the Filipino people,” DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II said in the statement.

The DICT had pushed the concept of tower sharing to improve tower density, which is said to be one of the lowest in the region at 4,000 subscribers per tower.

The common-tower policy means more than one telco can use a single tower, thereby increasing the number of subscribers being served by each tower. — Arjay L. Balinbin