Pena: LGU approval of cell towers

IT ALL started with President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address (Sona). He warned all telecommunication companies (telcos) to improve their services or be expropriated by the government. The telcos then responded by saying that it is the local government units (LGU) who are causing delays in the installation of cell towers.

Following Duterte's order to improve the digital infrastructure in the country, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced that a joint memorandum circular of concerned agencies will be issued to streamline the documentary requirements and processing time for the building permits of the telecommunication towers. The processing time is a maximum of 20 days. In addition to streamlining permitting requirements, the government also allowed the use of common cell towers.

The DILG said there will be no more resolutions from City or Municipal Councils and from homeowners association (HOA). To be secured are barangay clearance and other documentary requirements for building permit applications on common towers such as Unified Application Form for Locational Permit, Fire Safety Evaluation Certificate, building permit, property documents and select ancillary permit and accessory permits requirements.

It's good that the Sanggunian Bayan/Panlungsod is out of the picture because they will have a tough time complying with the 20 day deadline. The Sanggunian needs a minimum of two weeks to approve a resolution, unless a special session is called for the purpose. The first week is first reading and referral to the appropriate committee. Assuming the committee hearing goes without any problem, the resolution is approved the following session day.

Based on my experience as councilor, the delay in the approval of the city/municipal council is actually the telco's compliance to the locational guidelines for base stations of cellular mobile telephone service of the HLURB. It requires among others a Barangay Resolution, consent of the HOA, Department of Health (DOH) report and the conversion of the land where the cell tower will be erected. There are instances when they submit incomplete requirements.

Under the HLURB guidelines, the approval of the HOA and residents whose property is adjacent to the base station is needed if the site is inside a subdivision. If there is no HOA, there should be a written consent of the majority of the actual occupants and owners of properties within a radial distance equivalent to the height of the base station.

As for the DOH, the HLURB requires a Radiation Protection Evaluation Report from the Radiation Health Service. If the land where the cell tower will be erected is agricultural, it has to be converted to non-agricultural use by the Department of Agrarian Reform. These two are the hardest to secure. It takes months to get them. If the site is near an airport, a clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines is also needed.

Another cause of delay is opposition to the project. Usually, the barangay will hold a public hearing and those who are against the project will bring out information from the internet on the alleged adverse effects of radiation from cell sites. Sometimes they even invite outsiders who will speak about these claims. The Barangay Council, under pressure from its constituents, will defer, or in some cases even deny, the approval of a resolution of consent.


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