Our country’s digital history
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - July 3, 2020 - 12:00am

In the year 2000, then president Joseph Ejercito Estrada signed Executive Order 264 merging the National Information Technology Council (NITC) and the Electronic Commerce Promotion Council (ECPC) to form ITECC.

When Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (PGMA) took over as president in January 2001, she transferred the chairmanship of Information Technology Electronic Commerce Council (ITECC) to the President of the Republic of the Philippines by signing E.O. 18, amending E.O. 264. This move allowed her to oversee the direction of ITECC and ICT development in the country. It also expanded, enhanced, and accelerated ITECC’s policy-implementation capabilities and decision-making processes. With this transfer, the ICT industry was given a champion, someone who was in a position to effectuate changes in the industry and the country by putting ICT in the forefront of government priorities and national consciousness like it never had been before.

The council was composed of PGMA as chairperson, then Trade Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II of DTI and this columnist as co-chairs, and 15 designated members consisting of eight Cabinet Secretaries and seven CEOs of major companies from the private sector.

CICT

The active leadership role played by PGMA was the major factor in ensuring active participation of Cabinetlevel officials of key departments who were part of the council. In fact, it was through the efforts of ITECC that the commission on ICT was established by Executive Order 269 on Jan. 12, 2004.

With the creation of the CICT, PGMA’s priorities got diverted to other politically sensitive issues. Because of this, the effectiveness of the multisectoral initiative diminished and the CICT became the sole implementer of the ICT Roadmap.  Since it was not even a full pledged department at that time, and with the President no longer pushing the agenda, the other departments lost interest in supporting the initiatives.

DICT

On May 23, 2016, DICT (R.A. 10844) was finally established. Four years later, it pains me to see why IT was not given more prominence in helping us through this crisis, rebuilding the economy, and make it more resilient to future shocks such as pandemics.  The sad truth is that we were caught flat-footed and were not tech-ready to deal with the pandemic. Instead of one calming voice that said “we’ve got this,” there was a cacophony of disparate voices – all well-intended.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the determination of BSP Governor Ben Diokno to move toward a cashless society. I watched DoTr Secretary Art Tugade forcefully present his plans to digitize his department’s operations by land/sea/air. Secretary Dominguez is employing a cadre of young capable IT staff to streamline DOF’s operations and its interactions with the public. DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Pena has been assisting other agencies with their response like developing the IATF Rapid Pass. Last week Acting NEDA Secretary Karl Chua also presented credible plans for the implementation of the National ID. There is a very common Tagalog term, “kanya-kanyang diskarte.” It is street language for “to each his own way.” This just cannot be if we are to comprehensively move towards the digital economy of the 21st century.

Digital Economy

On June 24, 2019, I wrote DICT’s structure being of equal status to other line departments presents the challenge of implementing a holistic approach that digital society readiness requires. Each of the ASEAN economies have developed their own digital readiness blueprint – the Philippines included — although in varying levels of comprehensiveness and quality. Currently, experts rank Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand as the leading three in terms of ASEAN digital development index. Their approach has been multi sectoral. This is why I have advocated a multi-stakeholder commission – the private sector and civil society included – chaired by NEDA, with the DICT as its coordinator to develop our digital society readiness blueprint.

Let’s face it, the DICT has been unable to take the leadership role in our transformation to a digital economy, partly because of its structure as stated above. Moreover, their leadership seems to have not realized that ICT will play a major role in this evolution to a digital economy. Indeed, the digital economy permeates all aspects of our existence: governance, education, labor, health, commerce and industry, agriculture, among others.

Multi-Stakeholder Commission

This is why I have advocated a multi-stakeholder commission to develop and oversee implementation of our digital society readiness blueprint:  1. Digital Infrastructure Development; 2. E-Business Development; 3. Legal and Regulatory Framework; 4. E-Government Development; 5. Human Resource Development.

I would further suggest that perhaps the NEDA Board might be the more appropriate body to do this. The current composition of the PhilSys Policy and Coordination Council might be a useful model. It is chaired by NEDA and includes representatives from DBM, DFA, DICT, DOF, DSWD, DILG, NPC, BSP, GSIS, SSS, PhilHealth and PHLPost with the addition of private sector representatives. Like the old ITECC, it is important to ensure Cabinet level representation and private level representation on the CEO level. Transposed, the NEDA Board would be chaired by the President and its composition at Cabinet level.

That was my personal opinion last June 2019, but today, I share the views of many that the Department of Finance as the Chair of the economic cluster should be in charge of the Multi-Stakeholder Commission reporting to the President. At the end of the day, I respectfully submit that is a decision only the President can make.

As history dictates above (ITECC), the personal involvement of the President made the difference. Therefore, Mr. President, your presidential leadership is needed for the digital transformation of our country as it will require a whole-of-government approach – with strong collaboration from the private sector.

PGMA
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