By Jocel de Guzman
The acceleration of the digitalization of Filipinos during the pandemic has made the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) one of the most relevant and essential departments of the executive branch. There are now 73.9 million Filipinos who have internet access, which resulted in the rapid growth of financial technology and e-commerce.
However, many perceive DICT as “only prioritizing” internet access due to the strong public sentiment against the slow internet issue. At the same time, the policy, industry development, consumer protection, and other aspects of the department’s mandate have not been felt.
Now that president-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos started naming nominees for his Cabinet, many in the technology sector eagerly await his appointee for the next head of the DICT. Since the new normal now is digital, the role of the next DICT secretary must go beyond the traditional bureaucratic approach.
Republic Act No. 10844, or the Department of Information and Communications Technology Act of 2015, paved the way for the creation of DICT when it was signed into law in May 2016. The DICT is supposed to be the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity to advance the ICT agenda of the country with a focus on Policy and Planning, Improved Public Access, Resource-Sharing, Capacity-Building, and Consumer Protection and Industry Development.
The minimum qualifications in selecting the next DICT secretary are clearly defined in Section 11 of RA 10844 – the technology secretary should be a citizen or resident of the Philippines and with: “At least seven years of competence and expertise in any of the following: information and communications technology, information technology service management, information security management, cybersecurity, data privacy, e-Commerce, or human capital development in the ICT sector.”
But when I talked to some advocates for better internet and technology leaders from the private sector who all refused to be named, they all shared that the president-elect should consider added qualifications for the next DICT head.
Open to ICT Policy Reforms. The Duterte administration’s ICT agenda focused on internet access, such as the development of the National Broadband Plan, Free wi-fi access in selected public places, and the development of the National ICT Portal. However, these projects are not strategic but are band-aid solutions to address the public clamor for faster internet in 2016. The next DICT Secretary must listen to various stakeholders and consider existing and new ICT reform proposals to craft a strategic, better, and future-proof Philippine ICT Agenda to catch up to the accelerating digital adoption of the Filipinos brought by the pandemic.
Transformational. With the increasing number of Filipinos and MSMEs fully embracing the digital life, BBM must choose someone with a solid track record in digital transformation to achieve the FULL digitalization of ALL government agencies, including all processes and procedures. The appointee should have extensive experience in successfully transforming an organization and be well-respected by various ICT stakeholders here and abroad.
Strong Advocate of Data Privacy. The foundation of information security is data privacy. The chosen candidate must be a strong advocate of data privacy, given that cybercrime, the unintended consequence of digitalization, is now prevalent. There should be a balance of digital advancement and data privacy protection in implementing ICT policies and reforms. Given the apathy of the majority of Filipinos when it comes to data privacy risks and issues, there is a great need for DICT to implement an aggressive nationwide internet health and safety education and awareness drive.
Collaborative. One interesting idea that came out in my conversation with a top technology executive is the creation of an advisory council composed of select ICT experts from the private sector, better internet advocacy groups, technology media, and content creators. The incoming DICT secretary can benefit from the insights of people who are exposed to the successful implementation of global ICT trends and the ICT challenges in terms of laws and regulations faced by technologically advanced countries.
Though these added qualifications can be considered wishful thinking according to a data privacy advocate, but I am very hopeful that our president-elect will choose the next DICT head based on at least the minimum qualifications set by the law and not on mere political favor.
Jocel de Guzman is the founder and president of start-up reputation and perception management company, Kuro Strategic Management Services. He used to head the PR and Communications Strategy of Globe Telecom for 7 years before becoming head of corporate communications of HGS Philippines in 2020. He now works as a communication and advocacy consultant with various clients in the Banking, Insurance, BPO, and Tech industries. He is also a philosophy degree holder from San Beda University.