Bicam approves proposal to suspend cell tower permits for 3 years

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A bicameral conference committee (bicam) has approved a provision in the proposed “Bayanihan To Recover As One Act” or Bayanihan 2 to temporarily suspend certain permits for the installation and operation of cell towers in the country.

The bicam adopted a proposal introduced by Sen. Franklin Drilon to suspend certain permits for three years, except the building permit, during the panel’s first meeting on Friday, Aug. 14, to reconcile the disagreeing provisions of the Senate and House versions of the proposed Bayanihan 2.

In case of refusal of homeowners’ associations to allow telco towers, a referendum, supervised by the barangay council, can be called in the subdivision to decide on the issue, Drilon said.

There are about 29 to 35 documentary requirements and permits before a single tower could be built in a subdivision, barangay or town, Drilon noted. These permits include consent of the neighbors, barangay resolution, certificate of non-coverage, zoning clearance, height clearance, radiation evaluation studies, building permit, a city or municipal resolution, occupancy permit, mayor’s permit, memorandum of agreement with DENR-NIPAS, among others.

Drilon said these complex requirements remain “the biggest stumbling block for more reliable and faster Internet and telecommunication services in the country.”

“With this amendment, we can address this very complex process that hinders the country from being at par with our neighboring countries in terms of internet speed and connectivity. It is deplorable that the Philippines continues to have one of the slowest internet connections in Southeast Asia and even among Asia Pacific countries,” Drilon said.

The move is seen to pave the way for faster construction of telco towers to improve telecommunications in the country.

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chair of Globe Telecom, cited the move to simplify requirements for telco towers construction.

“Thank you for the extraordinary addition of simplifying the permits needed for telco infrastructure into the law. I cannot tell you how important this is. A very big thank you from all of us in the industry,” Zobel de Ayala said in a text message to Drilon.

“In the face of a pandemic, having a reliable telecommunication would play a vital role in our transitioning to what they call a new normal, by providing continued access to government services and maintaining business operations,” Drilon said.

“Internet today has become a basic commodity. It is a tool that we can utilize for work and education as we deal with the pandemic. Many businesses today are heavily dependent on the internet. Hence, we must do everything to improve our telecommunication infrastructure which telcos have agreed to readily provide,” Drilon said.

Drilon added that reliable and faster telecommunication service is what the government needs to successfully implement the Department of Education’s online and blended learning strategies.

“The three-year reprieve period would give telcos sufficient time to complete the infrastructure required to improve their services,” he said.

Telcos often cite the difficulty in getting clearances and permits to build cell sites and towers, which can take years to complete.

Drilon also proposed a provision which says that “no court, except the Supreme Court, shall issue any temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction against the construction of telecommunications infrastructure, including cell sites and cell towers.”

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