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Innovation

NTC: A highly politicized agency

Without anyone almost noticing it, the powerful National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has been transferred back under the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT). But, the circumstances that attended its transfer is perhaps one for the record books.
Written by Joel D. Pinaroc, Contributor and  Melvin G. Calimag, Contributor

Without anyone almost noticing it, the powerful National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has been transferred back under the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT). But, the circumstances that attended its transfer is perhaps one for the record books.

First, the document authorizing the transfer--Executive Order (EO) 648--came 16 months late. President Gloria Arroyo signed the document on Aug. 2, 2007, but it was only officially released by Malacañang (Presidential Palace) Records Office on Dec. 23, 2008. The CICT then formally announced it to the media on Jan. 7, 2009. (The NTC, by the way, is still an independent and quasi-judicial body although it is under the administrative supervision of the CICT).

Second, there was no explanation given for the EO's long delay. I had an exclusive one-on-one interview with the CICT's chair Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua, last Wednesday and he was candid enough to admit that he, too, is entirely clueless.

These issues don't help the NTC, the government body that local oversees the telecom sector, at all. In fact, they only serve as added ammunition that can further damage the agency's credibility after becoming heavily-politicized over the years.

One just has to look at the number of NTC heads who have been appointed and removed whimsically at the behest of Malacanang over the last few years. A lady chief, for instance, was forced to resign after it was learned that she was a member of a religious congregation opposed to Pres. Arroyo. Another NTC chair was also accused of irregularly granting a direct broadcast license to a company that turned out to be controlled by him and six of his college fraternity brothers.

Although it has had previous successes in the past, particularly during the term of former Cebu representative Simeon Kintanar when the NTC led in the deregulation of the telco industry, the agency has little to show off these days.

Lately, it has regressed incredulously with its issuance of a new draft circular governing the rates for commercial providers of "contents, information, applications, and electronic games". Frankly, I don't how the NTC can implement this, given the broad scope of the field it wants to regulate.

As I see it, the NTC is not taking full advantage of its powerful mandate as an independent quasi-judicial body. On the contrary, it has become an unwitting tool, so to speak, of current and previous administrations in advancing their own agenda in the communications space.

An agency can only be as good as the people running it. But sadly, the officials that have been appointed to the NTC are not exactly the best in the business. Obviously, political patronage plays a big part.

I believe there's merit in a previous proposal to introduce a fixed term for the NTC commissioners just like in other constitutional bodies. That way, they can exercise their functions more judiciously. Otherwise, it's time for this office to be abolished and replaced with a more responsive, relevant agency.

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