Various consumer advocacy groups have ramped up the call for Malacañang to issue an order to accelerate the expansion and development of the country’s digital infrastructure, saying the move was critical to national recovery and sustainable growth especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bantay Konsyumer, Kalsada, Kuryente (BK3) said an executive order (EO) on digital infrastructure was needed to “remove the infamous bureaucratic bottlenecks hindering the Philippine economic potentials for resilience, recovery and development.”
“In fact, the EO should cover not only digital infrastructure, but also land, air, and maritime transport, and even energy infrastructure,” said BK3 co-convenor Louie Montemar in a statement.
Former congressman Christopher Belmonte, a co-convenor of CitizenWatch, said the proposed EO should consolidate and harmonize existing plans and programs that were previously siloed. “Our leaders should be guided by recommendations from the private sector and consumer groups alike,” he said.
“The ordinary consumer will greatly benefit from the opportunities and productivity of digital technologies, but these benefits should be accessible to all Filipinos on a nationwide scale,” Belmonte said.
Lawyer Tim Abejo, also a co-convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines, said the participation of the people through the Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) will be central to the building of digital infrastructure.
“It is good to know that industry leaders in the infrastructure sector are not just supporting, but actively taking part in the infrastructure programs of the administration,” he said.
“The government should capitalize on this initiative by the business community to share their expertise for the purpose of nation building,” Abejo added.
The Philippines ranked 48th out of 63 economies in the 2022 annual global competitiveness report of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) Yearbook.
While this is a four-step improvement from the previous year, the Philippines has remained second-to-last in Asia-Pacific in the past five years.
“The sorry state of our infrastructure has definitely held us back,” Belmonte said. “We have not been able to attract as much investments. as we’d like. This is capital not coming in, capital that should be invigorating our industries and creating millions of jobs for our young and skilled workforce.”
As a result, we are losing out to other countries in attracting and keeping precious investments, he noted.
Abejo said the proposed EO would gain much from the Bayanihan to Recover Act, or Republic Act 11494.
Specifically, the pertinent provision is Section 4: “Undertaking measures in partnership with appropriate internet and communication service providers in the acceleration of the deployment of critical Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure” and authorizing measures for the “Temporary suspension of requirements to secure permits and clearances for the construction of telecommunications and internet infrastructure”; “Streamlining of regulatory processes and procedures for the development and improvement of digital, internet and satellite technology infrastructure”; and directing all government agencies and LGUs to “act on all pending and new applications for permit, license, certificate, clearance, authorization and resolutions within a non-extendable period of seven (7) working days”.
Belmonte said the Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), had earlier called on Malacañang to issue an EO to improve the processes of establishing telecommunication towers and other related infrastructure.
“The objective would be to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and speed up the release of permits and licenses,” he said, adding that these improvements will accelerate infrastructure programs that have been long overdue.
Montemar said the Filipinos’ potentials are just waiting to be tapped and be given the opportunity to excel in a digitally-driven economy.
“Our people are skilled and hardworking, and they deserve to be provided the chance to improve their quality of life,” he said.
A truly responsive government will enable human capital to thrive by laying the groundwork for a competitive, digitally-powered economy, he said. “The key to that is a robust digital infrastructure that attracts investments and elevates the people’s capability, income capacity, and living conditions,” Montemar said.
“The government should empower our digital savvy people to unleash their potential instead of losing our ICT professionals to foreign economies,” he said.