By SENATOR SONNY ANGARA
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that indeed, the online world is a powerful tool. Many have managed to work from home, or in some cases, have found new jobs through the Internet. Conference applications such as Zoom and WebEx are not only being used for office meetings, but also informal gatherings. And, of course, online shopping and app-driven delivery services are now becoming part of people’s everyday habits.
But the digital world in the Philippines is reaching its limits. As of March, 2020, The Speedtest Global Index, which records the broadband speed around the world by country, put the Philippines at the 104th in the world, with a download speed of 23.80 Mbps. We rank even lower when it comes to mobile Internet, coming in at 116thplace, with 14.24Mbps.
As we begin to rely more on the Internet and things online to ride out the COVID-19 outbreak—and, perhaps, to adapt to the post-COVID culture—we should enhance broadband Internet services around the country. We are already using online services and platforms to buy food, clothes, and other items. We can now go online to pay our bills and access other financial services. For our students, the pandemic has also opened the door to online education. With all this happening, our country’s online capacity must be improved.
However, improving our Internet infrastructure’s load capability is only part of the digital development our country needs. The draft We Recover As One document that is currently being formulated by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as head of the IATF-Technical Working Group for Anticipatory and Forward Planning (TWG-AFP) has come up with many points of discussion on exactly how we should move forward with online services.
In education, for example, we should promote digital and alternative learning. This can be done through reduced Internet rates for students and faculty; loans, and subsidies for acquiring laptops, computers, and other equipment; and the creation of tutorial platforms. The Department of Education already has the DepEd Commons, an online educational resources platform that students across the country can use to get materials from their teachers.
E-commerce will also play a big role in our post-COVID-19 society. Surveys included in the TWG-AFP draft show that almost 80% of respondents in the business sector would have zero sales if the ECQ is further extended by another month. This is why the expansion and further development of cashless payment systems and other similar platforms will be a big boost for retail, information technology, and business process management companies.
The TradeNet project is another digital development that also needs to be fast-tracked. An initiative jointly led by the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), TradeNet will be an online trade facilitation portal that will interconnect up to 75 trade regulatory agencies of government across 18 departments. Fronted by an integrated website, TradeNet will track real-time information on cargo, supply, production, and inventory. It will also assist in inter-agency operations during times of crisis.
Finally, the fast implementation of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) is sought, as mandated by RA 11055 which we co-sponsored in the Senate in the last Congress. The idea is that a unified government-issued identification card can be used not only as proof of identity, but also as a way of accessing digital payment systems to allow for the efficient transfer of government assistance in times of crisis, pandemics, and disasters.
The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed dealt us massive blows. But there are also lessons that we should learn, moving forward. As we start easing into the so-called “new normal” and continue preparing for future crisis events, developing digital services and systems will make our country more resilient and able to function even with large-scale economic disruptions. It is time for our country to have a serious discussion with all digital stakeholders on how to not only expand our broadband internet capability, but also what we can and should do to take full advantage of such digital infrastructure.
Email: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara
Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.