MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman ordered the suspension of Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) Director General Jeremiah Belgica and four other officials of the agency, after an ongoing investigation on alleged graft and corruption found “strong evidence of guilt.”
In an order addressed to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea last Thursday, June 2, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said the preventive suspension of Belgica, deputy director general Eduardo Bringas, division chief Sheryl Pura-Sumagui, and directors Jedrek Ng and Melamy Salvadora-Asperin would last six months.
The ARTA officials had been involved in an investigation based on a complaint filed by DITO Telecommunity Inc, which accused the anti-red tape body of disadvantaging it over a dispute with NOW Telecom Company Inc over the distribution of contingent frequencies.
“The evidence on record shows the guilt of respondents… is strong …which may warrant removal from the service,” the order read.
The Ombudsman said placing the officials on preventive suspension would prevent possible harassment of witnesses and allow for documents to be secured.
DITO earlier filed criminal and administrative complaints against ARTA officials for the supposed violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The group also sought a probe for grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, among others.
This came after NOW filed a complaint with ARTA on the supposed inaction of the National Telecommunications Commission on its request for frequencies, to which ARTA responded by issuing an “order of automatic approval” directing the NTC to assign contingent frequencies in favor of the company.
Both DITO and the NTC questioned ARTA’s order, citing an opinion from the secretary of justice which said NTC’s proceedings were beyond “automatic approval.”
DITO, partly owned by Davao businessman and Duterte campaign donor Dennis Uy, was made the country’s third telco player during the Duterte administration. Last May 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law renewing its franchise, effectively allowing the company to operate its telecom network until 2046. – Rappler.com