The National ICT Summit 2016
Novotel Hotel, Quezon City
June 29, 2016
In 48 hours, we will witness one of democracy’s hallmarks, which makes it one of civilization’s greatest apps: the orderly transfer of power.
One leader logs out; another logs in. Benigno Aquino III will do his, to use a term in vogue, “Baxit” quietly, while Rodrigo Duterte is expected to begin his term with a bang. Or, possibly, “bang, bang, bang”.
While the passing of the baton is not without kinks, there is one field which showed seamless transition – in ICT.
One of President Noynoy’s last acts in office was to sign the DICT law, and one of President Digong’s first pronouncements was to name his DICT secretary.
Globe promptly hailed—in language so gushing and ebullient—Rudy Salalima’s qualifications that one gets the impression that he is the telco’s greatest ever app to be downloaded to the public for free.
On my part, I would rather use one word in describing Rudy’s appointment, something he and Globe are familiar with: Smart.
If it were someone else, like a retired politico who just got endo’d in Congress, the best that he could be is a “DICT head” who is good. But in Rudy, who cut his teeth, and claws, in the business when the slimmest of cellphones were as large as Coke litro bottles, we have the makings of a great DICT secretary.
His greatest strength though, won’t be found in his kilometric CV, that of a BFF – or a Bedan Friend Forever of the incoming president.
Academia might frown on this Old Boys Club link, but in realpolitik, competence loses its value when not connected to power.
And nowhere is this more true than in the case of the DICT secretary, for he and a cellphone must have the same trait: to always have the ears of the president.
This is so because the challenges that we as a nation – and not just Duterte as a leader – must confront have ICT as a part of the solution.
In naming a few in our catalogue of problems, we can begin with anecdotal reasons why the DICT law’s signing was delayed, so much so that most of us were already resigned to the fact that it will end up in the graveyard of vetoed legislation.
The story is that it could have been signed earlier if the President’s text message that the bill be forwarded to him was not truncated, if his follow-up call to bring it to his table did not drop, and if it did not take eons to download the attachments sent to him.
While we may laugh at this fictional account, such inconveniences assault us regularly that they have long ceased to be a laughing matter.
When it comes to getting clear calls and hitching on to fast Internet, the struggle is real.
But although ICT services need to be improved, ICT is not the problem. It is the solution.
Many of the problems we face today have ICT solutions which can ease the pain they cause or make them totally go away.
In fighting crime, for example, we need to launch a real 911 hotline. Dapat ang pulis mabilis pa sa alas-kwatro. Hindi kung tawagin mo sa tanghali, darating alas-kwatro.
If pizza delivery can be there at the door in 30 minutes, the police can do no less. The foundation of good policing is great ICT. From handheld tablets that contain an online criminals’ gallery to red-flagged cars, to a nationwide crime data base, to a CCTV network.
Before you can have a criminal on the crosshairs, the coordinates of his location must be found, and that is an ICT function.
As to the kind of criminals who need not brandish guns to steal, the DICT has a role to play in stopping them, a job made more urgent by the Bangladeshi bank caper.
We have to secure our ICT infrastructure, because we live in an era when terrorists don’t have to blast bank doors to do mayhem; but simply unleash a virus that could shred or suck out financial data.
We have to boost our nation’s defense against cyberattacks because an enemy with a missile is as dangerous as one with malware.
Battling red tape is an ICT endeavor too.
Permits, licenses, land titles should now be applied for, processed, issued, renewed online. In this Republika ng Pila-pinas, let us leave to the MRT the exclusive franchise of organizing long lines.
Facetime, we leave to lovers, not to bureaucrats and the transacting public, because personal interaction between the two coupled with the discretion to relax rules is what causes moral hazards.
The above are but a fraction of the to-do list of the incoming government which would find it easier to redeem its promises if it harnesses the full potential offered by ICT.
Manny Piñol has warned traders against price gouging that harms both ends of the farm-to-table journey of food and only enriches those in the middle. But this can only be stopped by real-time information that ICT provides—or when Mocha starts blogging about coffee prices. Climate-smart farming also depends on ICT.
My teacher, Liling Briones, can’t wait to start a revolution in education. She has to Wi-Fi schools, put computers in front of students, tablets in the hands of teachers, boost online education—all ICT activities.
Mark Villar says he will geo-tag all public works built. Again, an ICT function.
Last weekend, President Digong vowed to install a 24-hour anti-corruption hotline in the Office of the President, an ICT project, which some of his fans hope that when reached would feature a prerecorded voice of Digong thanking the caller for reporting “yung mga lecheng, tinamaan ng lintek, walang kwentang, dapat ipakain sa isda, na mga salbahe sa gobyerno. Please press 1 or 2, but not the trigger.”
If roads are clogged with traffic, then the information highway provides a detour. That way energy is saved, pollution reduced, and mass sanity is preserved.
Kung ma-traffic, mag-telecommute.
Kung malayo ang ospital, ang doktor ay napapalapit sa pamamagitan ng telemedicine.
Not all infra problems require cement as a solution, some beg for connectivity.
But it is in creating jobs that ICT and DICT can greatly help.
We all know that by injecting ICT into the production of goods or value chains, costs go down, sales go up, markets expand, and innovation is encouraged.
ICT has been proven to put people to work, taxes in government coffers, money in the economy, and hope in our country’s future.
Income from outsourcing – the BPOs, the call centers, the back offices, medical transcription, game development, creative process outsourcing, to name a few – is projected to reach $25 billion or 8 percent of GDP this year.
In addition, it employs a million Filipinos, more if ancillary services are included. One in four jobs today is occupied by a knowledge worker.
Whether artists who can paint Finding Dory scenes to callers who can find cheap hotels, we got them all here.
So DICT’s role goes beyond plugging dead spots, or turbocharging Internet speed, so that byte meets hype. Most important, it involves creating the policy environment that will sustain ICT as a proven growth driver.
Every 10 percentage points increase in broadband penetration is said to boost the GDP by 1 percent.
But to avail of these benefits, we need to address ICT infrastructure, ICT affordability, ICT usage—three benchmarks in which the Philippines ranks low.
To do these, the DICT law provides a basic manual of operations.
The hardware, from an alphabet soup of government agencies to be scrapped, merged, retained or realigned is there. The new software, Rudy and company must write, in the manner that the DICT bill was written, via crowdsourcing from a broad band of groups who pushed for it.
To jumpstart its operations, these are my unsolicited advice of urgent things-to-do.
- Lobby for a bigger footprint in the 2017 budget, to build up the organization, and sustain good projects like the Free Wi-Fi in Public Places.
- Install value-for-money benchmarks in all ICT-related government spending for 2017. A government which would spend P3.6 trillion a year needs ICT to get more bytes out of the buck, and to prevent bribes from being squeezed out of the last peso;
- Lure the best and the brightest to join the DICT, digital natives preferably. Inculcate a pro-consumer culture in that agency;
- Create a team that will write the ICT roadmap in the 2017 to 2022 Philippine Development Plan; and
- Make the DICT secretary the real boss of the NTC. “Unli” services the DICT can offer, but when it comes to overseeing the NTC, there should only be one and only authority, the DICT secretary.
In his rebirth as a public servant, I expect Secretary Salalima to be a hacker—hacking away the thicket of laws and regulations which have strangled the growth of ICT industry and the improvement of telecoms services and products.
Congress can exercise oversight powers in measuring DICT’s performance.
But on this, I think, actual monitoring, and real-time at that, will be done by the public: by the 48 million Facebook users, 130 million cellphone subscribers, 9 million households with Internet connection, and the army of trolls.
These users of the third utility after power and water would know if the needle has moved towards better service or if quality has dipped.
The fact is, every person with a cellphone has an instrument in his hand that will gauge performance. There’s no escaping from such omnipresence.
In 48 hours, we will have a new leader whose formal ascension to power will be livestreamed, tweeted, broadcast in YouTube, a far cry from 70 years ago when the grandfather of the man he defeated was sworn into the same office with a tiny fraction of the war-weary population able to hear his inaugural speech from the two rickety radio stations which broadcast it live.
Even 18 years ago, telegrams were still sent out to invite people to Erap Estrada’s inauguration in Malolos, the same mode of communication Aguinaldo used in summoning the first Congress to assemble in that town a hundred years before.
But the fundamental role of ICT then as now, when it comes to governance, has not changed. Like a bullhorn, it amplifies good or bad rule.
In the days ahead, let us work together in making ICT an instrument of goodness, progress, civility and development. That, after all, is the change we want.
- Free public W-Fi to get P1.8 B funding in 2017 – Recto, 03 September 2016
- Recto: DICT to make Phl an electronic republic, 24 May 2016
- Recto to DOST: Free public Wi-Fi in 12 regions must begin next month, 02 May 2016
- Recto: 12 regions to get free public Wi-Fi by June, 17 April 2016
- Recto: Prioritize free Wi-Fi in public hospitals, airports, MRT, 26 July 2015
- DOST to roll out hotspots in 967 towns, NCR, 14 cities, 21 March 2015
- Sponsorship Speech: Future proofing our country: Why DICT is an app we need, 16 March 2015
- Keynote Speech: The Importance of a Department of Information and Communications Technology, First General Membership Meeting – Infocomm Technology Association of the Philippines (ITAP), 24 February 2015
- Senate OKs funding for 51,000 free Wi-Fi spots, 21 November 2014
- Faster internet speed pressed, 28 May 2014
SENATE BILLS/AUTHORED LAWS
- Senate Bill No. 269: Bilis Konek Act of 2016, 04 July 2016
- Senate Bill No. 816: Free Public Wi-Fi Act of 2016, 21 July 2016
- Senate Bill No. 855: ICT in Education Act of 2016, 21 July 2016
- Republic Act No. 10844: Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Act of 2015, 23 May 2016