Office of the Ombudsman

Ombudsman finds ex-ARTA chief guilty of grave misconduct for favoring NOW Telecom

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Ombudsman finds ex-ARTA chief guilty of grave misconduct for favoring NOW Telecom
Former ARTA Director General Jeremiah Belgica and four others are found guilty of grave misconduct for favoring NOW Telecom in its dispute against Dito Telecommunity over frequencies

MANILA, Philippines – Former Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) director general Jeremiah Belgica and four other officials were dismissed from service by the Office of the Ombudsman after finding them guilty of grave misconduct for favoring NOW Telecom in a dispute over frequencies.

In a 14-page resolution by Ombudsman Samuel Martires signed last March 3, the anti-graft body canceled the civil service eligibility of Belgica, former deputy Eduardo Bringas, division chief Sheryl Pura-Sumangil, and directors Jedrek Ng and Melamy Salvadora-Asperi. Retirement benefits were also canceled. They were also barred from holding public office.

The Ombudsman said the former officials should pay a fine equal to their salary for one year if the dismissal can no longer be enforced due to separation from service.

The order stemmed from a complaint by Dito Telecommunity filed in 2022, which accused the former ARTA officials of giving preferential treatment to NOW Telecom. 

The officials had issued a resolution in 2021 which ordered an automatic approval of assigning frequencies to NOW Telecom by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), effectively making the company the third major telecommunications player.

But recall that the NTC held a bidding in 2018 where Dito, a company of Dennis Uy, was selected as the company that would utilize the coveted frequencies.

The Ombudsman noted that the former ARTA officials had a “clear intent to violate the law” by awarding the frequencies to NOW Telecom despite the government awarding the same frequencies to Dito.

The anti-corruption body also underscored that as early as 2005, NOW Telecom was disqualified from the assignment of 3G frequency bands due to unpaid supervision and regulation fees and spectrum user fees amounting to P2.6 billion. 

NOW Telecom, a publicly listed company of businessman Mel Velarde, was issued a provisional authority to operate under some frequencies under the condition that it paid its obligations. NOW Telecom never paid up. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: NOW Telecom’s bid for 3rd telco slot)

NOW Telecom also filed a complaint against the NTC in 2020, citing the automatic approval of ARTA which supposedly assigned it the frequencies.

Both Dito and the NTC questioned ARTA’s move.

The Ombudsman said ARTA showed “obvious favoritism” to NOW Telecom. The Ombudsman also noted that former Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had set aside ARTA’s order.

“It was issued whimsically with conscious and deliberate intent to do injustice, hence, constitute grave misconduct,” the Ombudsman said.

In May 2022, Belgica and the other officials were suspended for six months due to the complaint. –

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