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How did the COVID-19 pandemic change the process of renewing the business permit for business operating in Bonifacio Global City?

In this blog, we record our experience in applying for the permit renewal in January 2021.

Other people may have a different experience especially regarding the waiting time. If you were able to have all the documents ready in the first week of January, for example, your waiting time would most likely to have been shorter than ours. But then not many businesses were likely to have been able to do that because of the large amount of documents required. 

Changes from last year's permit renewal experience: The location of the Taguig City's permit processing office had moved to a more remote place for BGC residents. One of the dozens of requirements for renewing a business permit, namely barangay clearance, could be done completely online (kudos to Fort Bonifacio barangay office). One more form had been added to the list of requirements - naming of a safety officer for COVID-19 measures (to comply with the requirement relating to Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (IDPRP), also known as the “Safe City Checklist".

Other than those, there were no changes. The overall process of business permit renewal can be described by 3-ALOs:

- a lot of documents 

- a lot of moving around different queues

- a lot of sitting in the various waiting areas

Preparation

It would be a very time consuming mistake if you were to just go there to figure out what is needed. Check first the Facebook pages of Barangay Fort Bonifacio for information about barangay clearance, Taguig City, and its Business Permit and Licensing OfficeWebsite of Barangay Fort Bonifacio provided information about online renewal of barangay clearance for business permit, one of the numerous requirements for permit renewal.

Download the permit application form, fill it up and make three copies. There is free photocopying service at the BPLO location, but it takes extra time to make copies.

Check if you have the original and at least one copy of the required documents. Ours were:

- SEC certificate

- 2021 BIR annual registration;

- VAT filings for first 3 quarters in 2020;

- audited financial statements for 2019;

- certificate of employees;

- certificate of gross income for 2020;

- last year's business permit and receipt, community tax certificate, sanitary permit;

- new barangay clearance;

- new insurance policy to cover third party injured in the place of business;

- notarized renewal application form, three copies;

- documents showing map, your business's lease, permit of occupancy of the place of business

The insurance policy and notarization of the application form could be done at the BPLO off-site center.



On the way to the new off-site center for processing the renewal of business permit

Going to the new BPLO off site location

The new location was at a multi-storey parking building of Vista Mall, Camella Taguig Road. It is not far, but there was a detour and the road condition was not good. We got lost a couple of times even with the help of Google map. Once you reached Vista Mall, you had to go around the building to reach the parking building.

The new location was certainly spacious, and there was natural ventilation. In this regard, it was an improvement from the BPLO location at SM Aura. 

We left BGC at 7:20AM on a weekday, and arrived he BPLO off-site location at Vista Mall parking building at  8.10 AM. We could have got there faster had there been better road signage along the way from BGC. We first went to the second floor to fill in the COVID-19 contact tracing form.

The first stop was to submit the application form and documents. There was a queue number printing machine and we got a number. Instead of just sitting there and waiting there for our number to be called, we went to do notary public and get the new insurance policy. Both had a booth on site. Notarization was P200, and insurance policy was P1,870, as our registered office space was only 10 square meters.

We paid for the insurance policy, which was an insurance for injuries to third parties in relation to transactions made on the business premises, even though we knew this was a total waste of money because we do not meet clients in our office, and since the pandemic, we all are working from home. We were never given an option not to pay, and when inquired, were always told that this is a government requirement. 

After we finished these steps, our number on the first queue (the queue to submit the documents) had hardly moved. We inquired with the officials manning the queue number printing machine. They saw that we had gray hair, and gave us a number for senior citizens.

There were fewer number for the senior citizens queue, but we waited even longer in that queue than if we had stayed on our original queue, as a single counter was assigned to senior citizens, but somehow, it got stuck by one applicant for a very long time. So here is one tip. Even if you qualify for the senior citizen line, do not bother with it and get the number for the regular line, which is often faster.

At 9.51am, after waiting one and a half hour in line, we complained to the officials in charge of the queuing that the senior citizen's line was not moving. After about 15 minutes, they arranged for us to go to a regular counter. At 10.08am we finally got to submit our documents.

We did not ask for special treatment, and we wish the queuing system could be improved for everyone. We asked to talk to the manager, but instead, got fast-tracked a little. If the senior citizen lane were not confined to one counter, but blended into the regular queue, it would have been more useful. We never got to see the manager. 

After the official at the counter checked the documents, everything seemed to be in order, and we were told to wait for the printing of the bill (second queue). This would be the most time consuming part of this multi-step process, as someone would need to check our reported income and company size to make an estimate of how much the City Hall would charge the business.

We were told to sit somewhere and wait for the name of the company to be called. After more than an hour of waiting, we did not hear many companies called, so we asked the officials and were told that the counters for billing were still dealing with applications from the previous day. We had no idea how much longer we had to wait, but it looked unlikely to be soon.

We checked with an official in charge of the queues, and were told that we could come back the next day and go straight to the billing counters to get our bill. We knew it was not that simple, because at that time, we already saw people queuing up on rows of chairs for their turn for their bill, without being given any queue number or appointment time. We left anyway, as we could not be sitting there the whole day doing nothing.

Second visit

We went back two days later, and arrived on a Saturday at 10am. True enough, we went to the billing counters and were told to line up behind about a hundred fifty people to get billing. There were chairs for the queue, so as someone left to collect their bill, people moved up to the next chair. There was no queue number, or were people sorted by the date of submitting their documents.

After one and a half hours, 11.30am, we saw only about one third of the queue in front of us cleared. Occasionally, a small chaos was created when an official announced something to the others and made some people got up and went somewhere. We had no idea what went on, and continued waiting for a few minutes more, until we could not stand it any more and asked an official  about the progress.

At first, all he could do was to tell us to wait. We complained that we submitted our papers two days ago, and should not be waiting behind people who might have submitted their papers yesterday. Eventually, the official went to talk to someone in the billing counters and took us to a billing counter.

The lady there found our file and gave us the billing together with the pile of papers we submitted. We were told to go down stairs to get a number to pay.

Making payment took only a few minutes, and there was only a few numbers in front of us. We were told to copy the receipt and go to another counter with our pile of documents.

The counter was to submit the form for Safety checklist, which gave the information of the designated safety officer. Luckily we printed it out when we filled it in while doing the barangay clearance online. Still, there were a few people in front of us and we had to line up to get the Safe City Certification.

With the certificate, we went to another counter, presumably to check the Safe City Certificate and the receipt for payment. There, we also handed them the whole pile of documents that we submitted and checked at least two times already.

At this counter, they checked all the documents again. Luckily the queue there was short also. Then they told us to wait 20 min for them to print the permit and collect them at the release counter.



When we went to the release counter, we were told to wait three hours. When we told them that the previous counter told us to come in twenty minutes, the officer went to check the files that they had received from the previous counter, and told us to go back in 20 minutes. We went to get lunch first, and went back in an hour.

The releasing counter luckily was still not too crowded. After waiting for about ten minutes, they managed to find our files, checked all the submitted documents again, and released the new business permit to us. Finally.

What should have happened

There were a few hundred businesses each time we went to the BPLO office during this 16 day period (Jan 4th to 20th) for businesses to renew their business permits, so we estimate that there are nearly 10,000 businesses that have to go through this permit renewal process each year. Each one has to send someone there for nearly two days to get it done. Excluding the time for preparing the documents, some of which like last year's permit should already be in the record of BPLO, this means a cost of 20,000 human days. Many of those who sent there were small business owners like us.

With a little thought by the authorities, we reckon that the time needed to complete the process could have been halved, at least. We are not talking about the use of some high tech equipment. A simple email system would have worked.

After an applicant submitted the documents, the office would have done the first check. If there is anything missing, the applicant can be informed in the first visit. After this first check is passed, the applicant could have been given an option to receive notification for billing by email, either to inform the applicant of the billing amount, or the need for additional documents.

If billing can be done online, so much better. If not, the applicant can be given a time to come back and pay, and collect the new business permit. Better still is to issue the new business permit online, and any officer checking the business to see if the permit has been renewed should be able to do so online.

A little more sophisticated electronic workflow system would have allowed uploading of soft copy of documents as well as recording the documents that have been admitted into the system.  

We could only wish.

Business permit renewals in the future

The government seems to be trying to put up a web portal to unify the processing of business permits in the Philippines. See this: https://business.gov.ph/home

We hope they succeed. However, there are many obstacles. Cities that claim they have an online system are often unable to deliver a smooth user experience. Quezon City, for example, announced that they could now process business permit renewals online. On the Facebook page, we can see a lot of puzzled or angry applicants as the online system was not designed and did not function properly. Each city has its own requirements, and management capability and capacity. We hope the portal will not just be a site that provide lists of requirements but that the Anti-Red Tape Authority can assist the cities in simplifying their procedures so that businesses can spend more time on running their business..




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