Thinking Beyond Politics


The reality of red tape has crippling consequences to our nation. Red tape is a euphemism for the numerous bureaucratic bottlenecks, usually of a corrupt or administratively inefficient nature, that delay what should be a logically necessary and efficient process.

Alas, red tape has become so institutionalized and tolerated that it has become a critical factor in the timelines of projects, notwithstanding these projects’ potential benefits to society and to the economy. Without red tape, doing business would be easier. And when there is ease of doing business, investments both foreign and domestic would come.

The curious thing is that eliminating or even minimizing red tape in specific fields has been shown to yield extraordinary results that should prompt our government leaders to act decisively on this regard.

For example, in the area of telecommunications and connectivity, two joint memorandum circulars addressing red tape have resulted in drastic changes that have translated into tangible benefits to the people. This is because it was found that while there is urgency to build digital infrastructure as fast as we can to cover more areas in the Philippines, various forms of bureaucratic gate-keeping — not the lack of technology or even capital resources — have prevented telcos from providing better and wider connectivity.

The are two anti-red-tape policies that have been proven effective — JMC no. 1 series of 2020 for the issuance of permits, licenses, and certificates for the construction of telco towers, and JMC no. 2 for the installation of telecommunication and internet infrastructure. These were jointly issued by the Anti-Red Tape Authority, the Department of Information and Communication Technology, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Health, Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development, the Food and Drug Administration, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, the National Telecommunications Commission, and the Bureau of Fire Protection.

The processing times to secure permits were drastically reduced: from eight months to 16 days for telco towers, and from 2.5 years to just two and a half months for other infrastructure. The number of permits that had to be obtained went down from 13 to eight, and the number of other required documents fell from 86 to 35.

Because of this bureaucratic streamlining, approximately 7,000 additional towers were built in just 18 months, bringing the total to 29,700 from 22,700.

However, these JMCs that rationalize and clearly articulate bureaucratic guidelines have a fixed shelf life — they would only be in force until July of this year. What will happen after that?

This is the reason the Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) have called on the government to issue an executive order (EO) to cover the provisions of the two circulars.

An EO, unlike a JMC, has the force and effect of a law that would compel all local government units and agencies to abide by the guidelines designed to make licensing and permitting processes more efficient.

The benefits of connectivity have always been there but were made even more evident during the pandemic-induced lockdowns, when people were forced to work, learn, and perform business transactions and personal interactions from their homes.

Then again, even without the pandemic to remind us, digital transformation has always been prescribed as indispensable to economic recovery and sustainable development. When a country’s digital infrastructure is in place and up to speed with global standards, that country becomes more competitive and attractive to investors.

There is a direct correlation between a country’s digital competitiveness and its economy. For example, in the 2022 IMD World Digital Competitiveness, Denmark was ranked first because of its level of digital readiness, integration of digital technologies, business agility, and adaptability.

The ranking, according to the Director of the World Competitiveness Center (WCC), Arturo Bris, describes the importance of national factors in explaining the digital transformation of companies and the adoption of digital practices by citizens. “Digital nations result from a combination of digital talent, digital regulation, data governance, digital attitudes and the availability of capital,” he said.

Following Denmark are the United States, Sweden, Singapore, and Switzerland. The Philippines, on the other hand, is at 56th place out of 63 countries ranked.

In his many pronouncements, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has articulated that he recognizes the need to fast-track our digital transformation for economic growth, development, and being at par with other countries. It is heartening to hear that the Palace seems digital transformation is needed to propel our country forward.

President Marcos has also cited the critical role of the private sector as partners in nation-building. Indeed, foreign investors and the private sector will generate jobs and economic opportunities, allowing Filipinos to upgrade their skills and thrive in the digital economy.

But these pronouncements to expand and enhance connectivity should be backed by accelerative policies like PSAC and ARTA’s proposed EO on digital infrastructure that needs immediate action by the President.

We trust that our leaders fully appreciate how critical the digital infrastructure EO will be in achieving economic recovery goals. The long-term utility and inclusive empowerment of a robust and extensive digital infrastructure network will serve as the backbone of our competitiveness and growth in the global digital economy.


Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.