Gringo’s ‘study’ habit

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan is known to be a fearless guy. A “baron” of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1971, Honasan has demonstrated his being committed, resolute and brave.

A former rebel-soldier-turned Senator who led several coup attempts against the previous administrations, Honasan first earned his niche in the country’s history during the February 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. It was during Honasan’s days as fugitive mutineer when he and then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte crossed paths.

President Duterte would later admit having given refuge to Honasan in Davao City where the latter was hiding to avoid the government forces trying to recapture him. So it was not a surprise when President Duterte recruited Honasan and appointed him as his new DICT Secretary last July 1.

Initially legal issues were raised against the qualifications of Honasan to head the agency due to the requirements of Republic Act (RA) 10844, or the law that created the DICT. Section 11 of RA 10844 specified that the DICT Secretary must be: “At least seven years of competence and expertise in any of the following: information and communications technology, information technology service management, information security management, cyber security, data privacy, e-Commerce, or human capital development in the ICT sector.”

Aside from his military stint as an Army Colonel during which he served as Intelligence Communications officer, Honasan also earned an economics degree at the University of the Philippines and a master’s degree in business management at the Asian Institute of Management. Thus, his former colleagues in the 18th Congress supported Honasan’s eventual overwhelming confirmation at the Commission on Appointments.

Having covered him while still pounding the Senate beat, I have come to know Honasan’s working style to take time to study matters and other issues before he makes a stand one way or the other. I had a running joke with Honasan when I dubbed him as “the most studious” Senator because he often replied: “I would study” that first.

Since he assumed as DICT Secretary five months ago, Honasan seems to keep his “study” habit.

Nothing wrong with it. But in the presence of the rising number of colorum courier services, it seems he is taking his sweet time to resolve the issue. It took Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza to expose the serious problem of fly-by-night couriers that are operating in the country allegedly without the necessary license from the DICT. During the DICT budget hearing at the House of Representatives last month, Atienza raised the issue to Honasan about the reported proliferation of big time courier services without any license.

Atienza named the alleged colorum courier services operations include PH Global Jet Express or J&T Express, Ninja Tech Philippines, also known as NinjaVan PH, and Entrego PH. Worse, these firms, according to Atienza, are fully owned by foreign companies and/or individuals in violation of the country’s 1987 Constitution.

Atienza urged both Congress and the DICT for a no-nonsense look into the operations of these firms under House Resolution No. 481 that he filed last month. DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio confirmed there are over 100 courier service firms with pending applications for necessary permit and license to operate. DICT records, he cited, showed these three courier outfits have been operating in the country without the required licenses and permits from the DICT postal division.

Courier services used to be regulated by the Department of Trade and Industry but the said function had been transferred to DICT under its Postal Regulations Division. With the advent of e-commerce, many courier services operate unabated because of its profitability. “The growing number of internet subscribers in the country today has resulted to an increase of e-commerce revenue from P44 trillion in 2018, from P36 trillion in 2017, with e-couriers now worth P36 billion,” Atienza claimed.

There is even a report by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on alleged courier services that are being used by drug syndicates to smuggle drugs. This is because the delivery of illegal drugs via courier services increased by 775 percent in 2018 when compared to 2017.

Many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are also being victimized by these freight and courier services. The Christmas holidays season has even given added business volume for these couriers.

What happens if the right parcels are not delivered? Who will be accountable? What if something happens to the riders of these colorum couriers, who will be responsible for their injuries or grievances? Most often than not, consumer complaints fall on deaf ears because many of these couriers are not licensed.

With these courier services now earning almost P40 billion a year, I am sure these firms do not pay taxes since they are not licensed. What a big loss to the government?

The most the DICT has done on the issue is to put out the list of licensed courier service companies in its website.

In the meantime, what is DICT doing about these rogue outfits that operate without the required permits and licenses? The burgeoning growth of e-commerce has launched the proliferation of courier service firms – products can be ordered online and delivered to households or offices, so much so that even contraband, biochemical weapons even, and such may likely be conveyed via courier service.

The good Secretary should step in once and for all to carry out its mandate to curb the continuing proliferation of “colorum” courier service firms in the country since the safety and welfare of Filipino consumers are at stake.

There is also a need to protect the small and legitimate players in the courier industry.

If the DICT cannot do anything to make these colorum couriers toe the line, who will go after these rogue firms? How much more time Secretary Honasan needs to study this matter? The ball is now with the DICT.

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