UNHRC Rohingya resolution
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - October 4, 2019 - 12:00am

The other day I couldn’t help but shake my head after coming across the headlines that screamed China and the Philippines were the only two countries that voted against a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution addressing the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar.

I was taught, since childhood, that we must defend and protect human rights. I find it humiliating as a Filipino that we are being lumped together with a who’s who of non-exemplars of human rights like China, Cuba, and Burundi. We should reconsider our position.

Promising Start for DICT Secretary Honasan

I must confess that I was one of those that doubted whether Secretary Gregorio Honasan had the wherewithal to take on the job of leading the country to the digital age. He is, after all, a self-confessed non-techie who still uses an analog phone, a Nokia 3010, when almost everyone is using a smartphone to conduct a huge proportion of their lives.

But hearing him speak publicly for the first time and the subsequent action he is taking to back up his promise by aggressively seeking funding to fulfill the promise that President Duterte made to provide internet access to every Filipino into a reality, has changed my perception.

In his speech, he laid out the grand vision of “a digital transformation that will support good governance and create new economic drivers.” He said that “the challenge is to distribute these benefits, so that the empowering tools of ICT are accessible to every Filipino.”

Rohingya refugees: Source: The Jakarta Post

He then went on to outline the DICT program to provide the “infostructure” necessary to achieve this primarily through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan and the e-Government Portal. The plan calls for a national broadband backbone that will deliver fast internet connection to 104,000 access points all over the country. This is envisioned to give free WiFi services to about 25 million users in unserved areas of our country by 2022. This will require building cable landing stations with more than a thousand kilometers of submarine cable laid out, the installation of communication towers and laying out of fiber. He said this would be achieved through different strategies, such as partnership with the private sector and tapping satellite broadband services, among others.

It is the right direction to take and the call for private sector participation recognizes the inability of government to achieve these by itself. If executed properly, it would go a long way toward improving the lives of all Filipinos and boosting the economy.

But this infrastructure will be at best an enabler. How will it be put to use insuring the achievement of something that is strategic? The challenge will be to develop a more comprehensive roadmap to get there.

Because of its pervasive impact, digital readiness requires a whole-of-society approach and so we welcome the  Secretary’s invitation for the private sector to share its experience and expertise. But as I have been proposing ad nauseam, the experience of Singapore, Malaysia and Israel, among others have shown that a joint public-private sector commission is the most effective way of harnessing the private sector’s wealth of experience rather than through public hearings and consultations that DICT had utilized previously.

In terms of policy making and implementation, achieving digital readiness requires a whole of government approach. It will require a commitment at the very top. Secretary Honasan brings with him an important asset – the President’s trust and confidence.

Already he has shown this when his efforts got the Senate finance committee to approve the P32.63-billion for DICT in 2020, a marked increase from the department’s 2019 funding of P4.3 billion. The bulk of the 2020 budget will fund the three-year national broadband plan which requires P23 billion in investment. The overall budget also includes spending for items like the DICT’s digital literacy program, cybersecurity, internal institutional reforms, and the improvement of national government portals to reduce red tape.

So perhaps what is required of the DICT head is the political will and strategic vision that Secretary Honasan has rather than an intimate knowledge of the digital technology — although it will not hurt to have an advisor that does.

I wish the Secretary success and call on my colleagues in the private sector to support him.

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