According to the United Nations, overcoming the digital divide is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The aim is to achieve universal, safe, inclusive, and affordable access to the Internet for all by 2030.
The pandemic showed us how we can leapfrog development barriers. For instance, those in remote areas who did not have access to actual schools, can now learn online if they have access to the Internet. Dissemination of critical information to the public is easier through mobile phones and social media. Even healthcare services can be accessed through telemedicine.
But as in other areas of development, there is a stark contrast between developed and developing nations when it comes to access to technology. Moreover, there is a need create safe digital spaces and mitigate cyber threats, which victimize the most vulnerable.
Among the priorities of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is to ensure universal connectivity so that no Filipino is left behind. The strengthened digitalization efforts of the administration will provide Filipinos not only opportunities to learn new technologies but also access to online learning, telemedicine, online banking, and other digital services. It will also digitalize government services to improve government productivity and efficiency in terms of delivering public services.
As we accelerate our nation’s digital transformation, we acknowledge that we cannot do it alone. For instance, the President wants to fast-track the issuance of National IDs. The government has been experiencing birth pains in implementing the program. And as we learn from these challenges, we also need to explore ways to improve how we implement our digitalization efforts.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), under the leadership of Secretary Ivan John Uy, is exploring partnerships with other nations to further cooperation, exchange of knowledge, technical expertise, and best practices on digitalization.
We hope to build stronger digital cooperation with our fellow ASEAN member states. We already have a memorandum of understanding with Singapore on digital cooperation, including on digital connectivity, particularly in inter-operable systems and frameworks that enable electronic documentation; cybersecurity, such as organizing training courses and technical programs through the ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence (ASCCE) to develop and enhance skills related to cybersecurity; and digital government/e-governance, such as in the areas of digital government strategy, digital government services, and digital identity.
We are also working on digital cooperation initiatives with other countries, including Japan, China, and Portugal. We have been meeting with ambassadors and counterparts from nations who we can have partnerships with.
For instance, we hope to learn from the best practices of Estonia, one of the most digitally advanced nations, on how they implement their digital ID system. Estonian citizens are issued digital IDs at birth. They use their e-ID in daily transactions, to pay bills, vote online, sign contracts, shop, access their health information, among many others.
We also need stronger cooperation among nations when it comes to combatting cyberattacks and other online threats. This is also one area that we are focusing on in crafting our partnership agreements with fellow governments.
While the digital divide exists, this can be bridged with strengthened digital cooperation, not only among governments but also between and among other stakeholders.
In forging these partnerships, perhaps we can be guided by the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres: “Will our legacy be a set of technologies that only boost the wealthiest and most connected of our societies while leaving the rest of the world unconnected and further behind? Or will we bequeath future generations a digital world that strengthens human rights, advances peace and improves all lives, including the most vulnerable?”