Press Release
February 8, 2017

Sponsorship Speech
Ease of Doing Business Act

Senate Minority Leader Ralph G. Recto
08 February 2017

Mr. President, my dear colleagues, magandang hapon po.

The bill is pretty straightforward, so instead of reiterating its provisions, may I just describe the social context, the government culture, and the business atmosphere which makes its passage urgent.

Red tape is an overdiagnosed but undertreated disease. Instead of being mitigated, it has metastasized all over the bureaucracy.

And that is what we get for trying to cure it with rhetoric, instead of reforms.

And judging by how the world sees us, our vitals have gone from bad to worse.

In the 2016-2017 Edition of the Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, we rank 137th out of 138 economies in the number of procedures to start a business.

And 115th as to the length of time to start one.

In the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business", we have gone down four rungs, from number 95 in 2015, to 99 in 2017, out of 190 economies.

It is, however, the subsets of these report cards which tell us of our biggest problems.

In the 2015 report of the World Bank, we are 161st in starting a business, 127th in ease in paying taxes, 115th in the paper work to employ workers.

In the 2017 ranking by World Bank, we are 171st in starting a business, 85th in dealing with construction permits, 112th in registering a property.

In many of these metrics, failed states, like Afghanistan, are ranked higher than us. The seven countries covered by Trump's immigration ban even fare better.

As we are still nursing a Miss Universe hangover, let me give you another vital statistics which depict not the beauty of our system but its defects: 34-35-36. 34 days to start a business, 35 days to register a property, 36 days spent in a year to pay taxes.

To those who would dismiss these numbers as alternative facts, then perhaps the kilometric queues in getting government licenses and documents would convince you.

Incensed at the daily sight of promdis lining up overnight to apply for a passport in a mall in his native city, even President Digong had railed against red tape.

But this should anger us more: red tape costs small businesses P140 billion in lost economic opportunities yearly. Digong must be reminded that red tape is a bigger problem than the Reds.

So what's the culprit of all of these? The byzantine maze of regulations in a balkanized bureaucracy.

If you're a freelance writer, you get a business permit, but to get one, you need a fire clearance, when you're still freeloading at your parents' home and you do your work in that corporate headquarters of the Facebook generation called Starbucks.

Pag na-approve ang business permit, magbabayad ka ng plaka, na may Photoshopped picture ni Mayor, habang ang plaka ng Vios mo taon nang wala.

Kung nagkataong pasok ka sa VAT bracket, you have to make 36 annual pilgrimages to the BIR.

Walk-in ka sa casa, with only your handsome face as collateral, in 72 hours, your P1 million loan application will be approved.

Go to PAGIBIG with a land title worth P2 million as collateral for a loan half that amount and it will take you weeks and tons of paperwork to get an approval. Ang kotse pwede mo itakbo, ang lupa hindi.

Many small transactions require physical appearance. If you have a postage stamp-sized lot in the province, you cannot wire RPT payments, nor can you make advance payments for the subsequent years.

Here, the size of business permit plates is as small as a chocolate bar. There, it is as big as a cartolina.

And I am glad that this is answered by a provision in this bill which requires unified and standardized forms in all government offices, especially local governments.

If one senile coconut tree is in danger of collapsing into your roof, you cannot cut until you have a permit , and even if you have it, you can only do so with a registered chain saw.

Mr. President:

In getting government documents, we have to shorten the process, shrink the number of requirements and signatories, speed up the delivery, and price them in a way mandated by law: to recover the cost in making them, but not to make a profit.

If we demand premiums for prompt service, we must likewise give discounts for delays and slap those responsible with demerits, which this bill mandates.

It says here that if an application does not get approved within a prescribed time, it gets automatically approved.

Tama nga naman. Kung ang pizza hindi dumating in 30 minutes, libre na, bakit ang reimbursement ng bayad sa phantom plates wala pa?

We have to lengthen the validity of licenses, permits, passports, NSO clearances, and make them transactable online. If documents are not perishable items, why must they have short expiry dates?

This brings me to another rule which must be applicable nationwide: The multipurpose use of clearances. For indeed, why must one be required to submit an original clearance to this office, to that office, and to the next, when it ought to be one-size-fits-all?

And I am happy to note, again, Mr. President, that this bill, insofar as local permits are concerned, prohibits the duplication of required documents.

Red tape is an equal opportunity oppressor, hitting businesses of all sizes.

Big-ticket items like PPPs are not immune, kaya para sa kanila more one-stop shops and clear and unchanging rules ang kailangan. Minsan kasi ang transparency cost mas malaki pa sa moral hazards na iniiwasan. Exhibit A: MRT.

When anticorruption measures wind up more expensive than the corruption sought to be avoided, then where is the advantage and the benefit in imposing them?

Let me make a quick detour here.

The 196-kilometer Manila-Dagupan line was completed in five years in 1891. One section, the 76-kilometer Tarlac to Dagupan, was completed in six months, in the midst of the typhoon season, and when workers were using carabaos instead of Caterpillars.

It took three days to lay a kilometer of track 122 years ago. Today, it takes months for one rail-related document to move from one table to another.

Kaya nga ba natagalan magawa ang Common Sense Station, di ba?

Speaking of common sense, it does not actually require laws to ease doing business or cut red tape. More relief can be given by simple acts than by Republic Acts.

In airports for example, why would travelers queue to pay travel tax when this can be embedded in the cost of the tickets, and if airlines are deputized as collection agents, then compensate them, and I am sure that the cost would be lower than what we pay TIEZA employees to manually issue the receipt and manually count the money.

Adding more frontline personnel does not require legislation. Putting up portals does not require a congressional franchise.

Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

This bill does not only promote ease in doing business, but more importantly, it will make it easy for the government to reach its targets.

By target, I do not refer to the people who are in the cross-sights of the gun.

You know at present, the only tally we're making concerns body bags. While there are far more important numbers to track, the national scoreboard shows only deaths.

What are the numbers that truly matter, against which government's performance must be measured?

These are poverty and employment.

Between 2016 and 2022, the government said it will create 12 million jobs, or 2 million a year, quality jobs--hindi yung nagpastol ka lang ng isang kambing, counted ka na as gainfully employed.

Between 2016 and 2022, the government has also promised that it will "graduate" 7 million poor, or more than a million a year, out of poverty.

Two million jobs a year plus one million liberated from poverty.

So you ask me, what is the role of this bill in achieving those targets? Simple. Jobs can only be generated by businesses which can only flourish if not choked by regulations.

Why? Because nothing strangles Filipino exceptionalism and creativity more than countless and useless rules.

The red tape yoke must be lifted for government to meet its other targets as well. It cannot be for local permits alone. We can exist with a bicameral legislature, but not with a bifurcated government, where documents are processed fast in LGUs, but move in slow motion in the national government.

Magbibigay ako ng dalawang halimbawa.

We are about to enter a very taxing season. But to encourage tax obedience, we must simplify, shorten and streamline tax payments.

What I am saying is that the tax program must be predicated in eliminating red tape first. The truth is, taxpayers are willing to pay their dues if only it isn't cumbersome and complicated.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Income Tax Return which is 11 pages long that one wonders if it is designed to extract financial data or your autobiography.

Speaking of taxes, government must also increase the share of LGUs from internal revenue collection, from 40 percent to 50 percent, or 50-50, hating kapatid, because, believe it or not, the pressure from a series of national government-mandated salary increase is what is driving up local permit cost.

Isang solusyon sa red tape ay ang pagdadagdag ng mga kawani. Pero maraming lokal na pamahalaan ang nagpatupad ng hiring moratorium dahil nga sa lumolobong Personal Services expenses.

Hindi nakapagtataka kasi payroll cost of LGUs rose by 50 percent from 2010 to 2015, and their General Services expenses rose five-fold during the same period.

Kaya nga ang pangamba ng iba: aanhin mo ang konting rekisitos, kung kakaunti naman ang bilang ng mga kawani na magproproseso nito?

Let us remember that while this bill mandates expeditious processing of permits, it does not rule on the pricing.

At totoo po naman talaga na opening up of more offices and additional frontline services is an antidote to red tape as well.

Isa pa pong halimbawa, lahat ng kotseng nabenta sa Metro Manila sa loob lamang ng apat na buwan, kayang punuin ang buong kahabaan ng EDSA pag pinarada mo doon ng bumper-to-bumper pero ang bilang ng LTO offices ganoon pa rin.

One more bad thing about red tape is that it deflates government spending. Scratch the surface of an unobligated appropriation and you will find complex rules lurking below.

Thus, if we want to turbocharge the release of money, in a manner which will shortcut the process but will not leave the government shortchanged, then let us slash the thicket of rules governing the use of funds.

This is important because government spending impacts on the business environment. Public spending, if not a growth-driver, is at least a growth-influencer.

When a road to a port used by exporters does not get built because funds have been embargoed is but one of many examples of how underspending dampens growth and reduces the velocity of government money.

Again, let me cite one example: the use of calamity funds.

The government of a town flattened by a typhoon will have to submit documentary requirements through a gauntlet of agencies.

Eh kung naanod na nga ang computer, tinuklap pa ang bubong ng munisipyo, sugatan ang empleyado at walang kuryente, paano ka magco-comply sa dalawang dosenang checklist?

Ang problema po kasi, government operates under a mentality that it has to post bid notices for a water hose while its neighbor's house is already on fire.

Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

I am glad that this consolidated bill calls for the optimization of ICT in reducing red tape, and promoting ease in doing business.

There is no doubt that we must harness technology.

In this selfie, Facebook, and some say fake news capital of the world, permits, licenses, land titles should now be electronically applied-for, processed and issued.

As I have often said, let us leave to the MRT the exclusive franchise of organizing long lines.

But this would require reforms in the telecoms sector, because what use is online application forms when it downloads pixel by pixel in Tetris speed? Mr. President:

Let me beg your indulgence if I have expanded the subject of my speech beyond the metes and bounds of the bill before us.

My point is that there should be a comprehensive solution to red tape. For a problem so prevalent, there can never be a piecemeal approach, nor a fragmentized cure.

The ease of doing business should be enjoyed not just by businesses, but even by government offices. Intra-agency transactions, especially in public bidding, the release and utilization of funds, should be seamless as well.

So I hope that this bill is just our maiden salvo against red tape, and that more of its kind are forthcoming.

Before I close, let me make this observation :

As a proponent of small but smart government, I have my reservations as well to the idea of creating another layer of bureaucracy for the purported reason of making that bureaucracy more efficient.

It seems that whenever we are confronted by a problem, we seem so unable to resist the temptation of solving it by creating a commission to handle the job that it has become an automatic reflex.

Sa halip na isang bagong Commission, hindi ba pwede na isang inter-agency committee na lang, na kinabibilangan ng mga Kalihim na may direktang kaugnayan sa pagtanggal ng red tape?

This is akin to passing a law reducing the number of rules only to implement it through an IRR longer and more voluminous than the rules to be abolished.

Anyway, Mr. President, I know that the proponent, a good friend of mine, can convincingly explain to us the rhyme and the reason why amidst the galaxy of offices, we need to create another one.

Nonetheless, I support this measure, proud to author it, and I call for its immediate approval.

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