Philippine NTC transfer made known after delay

Presidential directive to transfer country's telecom regulator back to the ICT commission was released to the public more than 16 months after it was signed.

MANILA--A presidential directive ordering the transfer of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) back to the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) has only just been made public, more than 16 months after the decision was made.

In a press statement Wednesday, the CICT said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order (EO) No. 648 on Aug. 6, 2007, effectively transferring the NTC from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to the CICT. However, the directive was only released by the Malacanang Records Office on Dec. 23, 2008--a lag time of over 16 months. Malacanang refers to the presidential residence.

The NTC, regulator of the local telecom industry, was previously housed under the CICT and was one of the agencies that originally formed the ICT authority when it was created in January 2004. The NTC, however, was subsequently reverted to the DOTC for unclear reasons in December 2005.

A check with the CICT confirmed the presidential directive was signed on August 2007, and not August 2008 as initially thought. Trish Abejo, an executive assistant at CICT, could not cite any reason why Malacanang delayed the announcement of the direction for over 16 months.

The NTC is coveted because of its vast powers, which includes overseeing the country's highly lucrative telecom sector. Virgilio Pena, the first chair of the CICT, once rued the removal of the NTC under the CICT primarily because of its large clout.

Pena noted that even as the CICT's head then, he was unable to summon the heads of local operators for a meeting, while the chief of the NTC--who was actually one of Pena's commissioners--could easily do that in a snap.

Nonetheless, the press statement from the CICT welcomed back the NTC to its fold, noting that the development is a "signal" that President Arroyo has identified the growth and development of the Philippine ICT sector as a priority of her administration.

Boost for local ICT
Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua, current chair of the CICT, said in a statement: "As communications and IT continue to converge, there is a need to converge the policy making functions as well.

"With the NTC once again an attached agency of the CICT, we look forward to being more responsive to the developments in the ICT industry."

Roxas-Chu noted that the move will also bolster the CICT's efforts to become a department in its own right, noting that one of the provisions of the bill to create a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), is the transfer of the NTC from the DOTC to the DICT.

"While the DICT Bill is still pending in the Senate, the issuance of EO 648 brings us one step closer to our vision," he said.

According to the CICT, the NTC, which is currently headed by Commissioner Ruel V. Canobas, will remain independent with regard to its regulatory and quasi-judicial functions.

Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.

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