PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has ordered government agencies to simplify the permitting process for telecommunications and internet infrastructure projects.

However, an analyst warned that Executive Order (EO) No. 32 may be challenged at the local level because it may impede the autonomy of local government units (LGU) to implement policies they deem important.

“To ensure the continuous development of digital infrastructure in the Philippines, there is a need to institutionalize a set of streamlined guidelines for the issuance of permits, licenses and certificates for the construction of telecommunications and internet infrastructure,” according to the order.

The Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) and Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) earlier urged Mr. Marcos to issue an EO reducing the red tape in securing permits for digital infrastructure projects.

The EO compels all LGUs and government agencies to follow the guidelines in streamlining the permitting process for the construction and operation of shared telecommunication towers, as well as the installation of poles, cables and facilities for telecommunications and internet.

Under the order, the only national or local permits or clearances required for telco and internet infrastructure projects are the following: 

• Building permit issued by the Office of the Building Official;

• Height clearance permit from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP); and

• Community clearances including those issued by homeowners’ associations.

However, certain clearances from government agencies may be required, such as an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) if the proposed project is within an environmentally critical area; a special use agreement in protected areas; and free and prior informed consent for projects within an ancestral domain.

A land use conversion clearance from the Department of Agrarian Reform, as well as clearances from the Laguna Lake Development Authority, Philippine Economic Zone Authority and Palawan Council for Sustainable Development may also be required for applicable projects.

Companies applying for building permits, barangay or locational clearance do not need to secure resolutions from the city council (Sangguniang Panlungsod) and village council (Sangguniang Barangay), as well as the ECC if the proposed site is outside an environmentally critical area.

There is also no need to get a certificate of safety evaluation from the Health department and Food and Drug Administration, or a copy of the provisional authority issued by the National Telecommunications Commission.

The EO also mandates all cities and municipalities to set up one-stop shops for construction permits.

All covered government agencies and LGUs are enjoined to implement zero backlog policy in all applications for permits and clearances covered by the latest order.

A technical working group (TWG) on telecommunications and internet infrastructure should come up with the EO’s implementing rules within 60.

“While the new EO builds upon the previous administration’s commitment to reduce bureaucratic delay in the emerging tower sector, the President should reconsider its impact on the autonomy of LGUs to implement policies they deem important within their jurisdictions,” said Terry L. Ridon, convenor of infrastructure think tank InfraWatch.PH.

The order may be perceived as a “heavy-handed pronouncement” impeding the autonomy of LGUs, which is protected by the Constitution, he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“The EO may then be challenged by any LGU whose power within their jurisdiction will be severely limited,” he said, noting that the government should ensure that infrastructure projects do not affect its housing commitments to affected urban poor families.

“In other words, the President should focus on further limiting the processing time given to agencies in deciding applications for the issuance of various permits and licenses,” Mr. Ridon said.

Telecommunication companies welcomed the order, including Converge ICT Solutions, Inc., which said the presidential directive is “aligned with the private sector’s push for the creation of policies and programs promoting the development of digital infrastructure and services.”

“We believe EO 32 will empower us in further improving our facilities and allow us to respond to our customers faster,” Converge Chief Executive Officer Dennis Anthony H. Uy said in a statement. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza