Over the last four Philippine Congresses, the creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has been introduced, but has often failed to secure approval either due to lack of political will or strong oppositions from agencies within the government. Legislators in the 15th Congress passed the bill, but the bicameral conference committee was not convened, hence, did not materialize. Yet again, Senate Bill 2686 and House Bill 6198 have reached the critical stage of the policy-making process—the President’s seal of approval for a bill to become a statutory law.
The Senate was quick to pass the DICT bill on third reading as early as June 2015, and transmitted the same after three days to the lower House for concurrence. The House version contains almost similar provisions with the Senate that sees a development of world-class Philippine information communications technology (ICT) systems. With more than a majority voting in favor of the bill, the measure was approved in the House by October. On the other hand, the Senate adopted and concurred with the House version, thereby, bypassing the bicameral conference committee. This took place because DICT is a priority measure of Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who both gave marching orders to the committee heads of Science and Technology, Government Reorganizations, Information and Communications Technology, and Appropriations. If one may recall, the leaderships of both chambers, together with their committee chairmen, met once a month to iron out key measures to push through in the 16th Congress. Had the same mechanism been adopted by the Executive department, there would not have been incidents, such as the Social Security System veto, as any reservations are expressed early on in the tedious process of legislation. This is precisely the reason the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council was created, so that the three branches of government would, as much as possible, synchronize their priorities.
Several articles and statements have been published in support of the DICT. It is understandably so because we have reached a point of no return. In an era of fast-evolving digital and virtual world, the Philippines could not afford to lose the battle of competitiveness and place too much burden on its people. The DICT is for security, efficient delivery of public service, business facilitation and pro-development.
The proposed law cuts the “communications” burden currently on the shoulders of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), consistent with earlier recommendations to consolidate all ICT functions of various government agencies. It should help the DOTC, then, to focus its role in addressing transport-related issues to make Metro Manila still habitable in the succeeding years.
Aside from abolishing the Information and Communications Technology Office, National Computer Center and the Telecommunications Office, it will, likewise, oversee the National Telecommunications Commission and the Philippine Postal Corp. for policy and program coordination. Hopefully, gone are the days where we have to wait for weeks and months to receive documents from postal offices.
It will be encouraging to see young, highly qualified technocrats serve in this about-to-be-created Cabinet-level agency. There is no point in appointing individuals that are not adept to combating trojans, phishing scams, or malwares. A good combination is always preferred—a professional electronics engineer (technical expertise); a lawyer (compliance with laws); a career officer (familiar with bureaucratic maze); and a businessman (hates redundant procedures) for the top posts in the DICT.
The Council of Chief Information Officers composed of representatives from the government, constitutional bodies, local government units, academe and private sector ICT-oriented non-governmental organizations manifest the intent of the bill for effective coordination and implementation of the e-government master plan. It is government-enabled, private sector-led, citizen-centric and market-based in approach toward nation-building and economic growth.
Infusion of mobile governance is a welcome development. It allows participation of more than 100 million Filipinos in various phases of governance, from barangay deliberations to regional initiatives, up to national accountability and even winning international competitions. Where in the world is there another country with 114-percent mobile penetration and a 33-percent growth rate in active social-mobile accounts? In fact, Global Web Index in 2014 reported that Filipinos spent 33 percent of their time per day for Internet use access through mobile devices. This might be due to slow Internet connection at an average speed of 2.5 Mbps, or Filipinos being simply tech-savvy, thanks to its young dynamic population.
Once approved by the President, the DICT brings hope for equality as every citizen is given an opportunity for easier access to public service, regardless of social status or geographical location. Poor Filipinos will now have better information on available jobs nearest to their places, and will now have venues for e-participation in social and political discourses. In Brazil, for instance, officials post expenses online and within 24 hours, corruption fell, while faith in the government increased. Rural citizens in Tanzania send messages to their officials when water supply runs dry and the government responds immediately. In other words, electronic connectivity can do so much to improve our society.
With so many things to work on, we must realize that ideas come almost everywhere. The DICT enables every Juan and Juana to do his and her part in nation-building. It is certainly inclusive and daang matuwid. Hence, our steadfast call to the President is to sign the bill into law to complete this reform, upgrade our ICT capabilities, and possibly complement our microsatellite “Diwata” in the space.
Kent Marjun Primor serves as the Market Research & Communications specialist at the Nordic Business Council of the Philippines. For comments and inquiries, direct it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article originally published by Business Mirror, which can be accessed here.