By Eden Estopace (Philippine Star)
The DICT Act of 2015, also known as Republic Act (RA) No. 10844, officially took effect last Thursday, ushering in a new era of governance that is hopefully more focused on ICT as a tool for national development.
The law, however, provides for a six-month transition for the full transfer of the functions of existing government agencies involved in ICT development.
The Information and Communications Technology Office of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-ICTO), which has served as the lead implementing agency of the government in ICT matters since its creation in 2011, has been abolished along with other government agencies with ICT functions.
At the opening of the Innovative Strategies for Development Summit (ISDS) 2016, a three-day international conference on digital strategies for development hosted by the agency last week, executive director Louis Napoleon Casambre read a prepared statement acknowledging that it would take a much larger mandate for the Philippines to start playing catch-up in the vast global ICT arena.
“With ICT now having the authority at the department level, the country’s push to catch up will be much stronger,” Casambre said. “Finally, we will have the focus to drive our ICT agenda as a key player for national development.
By catching up, Casambre may be referring to the state of the nation vis-a-vis the rest of the world in using ICT for inclusive growth.
While Metro Manila, for example, is drowning in enormous problems brought about by severe infrastructure shortage - congestion, massive traffic jams, perennial flooding, and high crime rate - the rest of the world has long started the journey toward developing smart cities, or masterplanned communities that integrate ICT solutions in the urban development framework.
These are cities that work with clockwork precision, powered by ubiquitous high-speed broadband, and feature, among others, smart transportation, high-tech healthcare services, high-quality digital education for the youth, and automated government services for all – things a Filipino can now only dream of in the next life.
In its five-year run, the DOST-ICTO and its partners have sought to bring technology to governance and strengthen industries through ICT. It has also tried to narrow the ever-widening divide between those who have access to technology no matter how limited and to those who have none at all.
“Some of these programs include the Juan, Konek! Free Wi-Fi Internet Access in Public Places Project, which seeks to provide free Internet access to almost all municipalities in the Philippines; Tech4ED, which builds digital literacy and ICT capabilities; and Rural Impact Sourcing, a program that enables people from the countryside to use their ICT skills to the fullest without having to go to urban areas,” Casambre summarized.
These efforts, however, need to be scaled up by the next administration to the level that could make a huge difference in the country’s economy and would allow us to take advantage of the opportunities in the digital age.
Opportunities for the digital economy
In February this year, management consulting firm A.T. Kearney and Asian telecommunications company Axiata Group Berhad (Axiata) released a report showing that the growth of the digital economy could add $1 trillion to the GDP of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) bloc over the next 10 years.
“When it comes to market size and growth opportunities, there are few economic regions that can match ASEAN’s potential, especially when it comes to the digital economy. More than half of the bloc’s population is aged 30 or below. This is the consumer group which is most likely to contribute to the digital economy as they are most tech-savvy,” said Naveen Menon, partner and Asia-Pacific head of communications, media & technology practice at A.T. Kearney and one of the authors of the report, in a statement.
“The confluence of technology innovation, a youthful population, and robust economies can help ASEAN leapfrog into the vanguard of the digital economy,” he added.
As one of the more strategically situated countries in the ASEAN, the Philippines should be able to take advantage of this vast opportunity.
To meet this growth potential, the report recommended addressing important issues at the country level such as developing a comprehensive digital strategy, improving broadband and Internet access, accelerating innovation in mobile financial services, creating “smart” cities that harness the power of technology to empower businesses and consumers, and fostering a culture of digital innovation by revamping the K-12 and higher education system.
As the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the executive branch of government that will develop the national ICT agenda, much lies in the hands of the newly-formed DICT.
Casambre also emphasized in a plenary session at ISDS 2016 that ICT cuts across all the 17 sustainable development goals identified by the United Nations, including putting an end to poverty and hunger, quality education, sustainable cities and communities, development work and economic growth, and good health and well-being, to name only a few.
Brahima Sanou, director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), emphasized in his keynote address at the summit that there is a need for a shift from a vertical, siloed approach to policy making to collaborative regulation.
“First, a lot of our problems stem from our antiquated laws. Second is the fact that only 17 percent of our schools are in areas with internet access. We are leaving behind 83 percent,” he said, adding that the wish list could actually be long.
DOST-ICTO deputy executive director for eSociety Bettina Quimson added that the important thing now is the crafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations.
“We need to make sure that the structures are correct moving forward because right now we don’t have the people nor the actual capacity for all the things we need to do properly in the countryside,” she said. “We should have more regional offices and make sure that we have the budget to ascertain that all the programs we have can be done properly.”