Seize the opportunity to be a digital economic power

HEADWAY-UNSPLASH

Moving beyond the crisis entails a wide range of development challenges and opportunities for the Philippines under the President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. administration.

While the investment-led, export-oriented, manufacturing, and agricultural approaches offer viable and effective solutions to economic problems, digitalization is the critical enabler for recovery and sustainable growth. The use of digital technology offers much more in terms of speed, efficiency, and reach.

Cognizant of the unlimited opportunities at hand, President Marcos Jr., in three of his 19 priority bills, emphasize the need for digital transformation, i.e., the E-Government Act, E-Governance Law, and the Internet Transactions Act.

For Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Ivan John Uy, recovery and competitiveness can be accomplished through digitalization. In his goal of achieving e-governance, avoiding and minimizing opportunities for corruption, connecting remote communities, providing e-commerce platforms for MSMEs, the accelerated implementation of the National Broadband Plan, robust cybersecurity, and implementing a harmonized policy and digital transformation strategy are key objectives in the DICT’s agenda.

In the administration’s 2022-2028 Medium-Term Fiscal Framework (MTFF), the headline goals in terms of real gross domestic product, single-digit poverty rate, national government deficit, national government debt-to-GDP ratio, and gross national income can be realized in a digital economy.

Doing business through online platforms and undertaking commercial transactions have expanded the retail and business landscape of the country beyond imagination. To a large extent as well, social interactions have gone online. Differences in time and space have been negotiated through digital platforms.

However, the responsiveness of the digital program of the Marcos Jr. administration will be the defining indicator of whether digitalization can lead to the creation of a strong digital economy.

Seemingly, the current government spells out the use of digital technology to help the government achieve its headline goals and implement the socioeconomic agenda. In the area of social protection, enhancing public services, and financial inclusion, the rollout of the National ID System (PhilSys) and the targeting of the marginalized population as beneficiaries will undoubtedly be hastened.

In education, the use of digital learning platforms improves both the competencies of teachers and students. Through blended modes of delivering education to varying environments of schools, there will be more resilience to disruptive events.

With regard to enhancing bureaucratic efficiency, digitalizing governance will streamline government processes and open sharing of the country’s information and data systems will greatly improve efficiency of front-line public services and disaster response.

As to the creation of more quality jobs, the MTFF pronounces that technology will be used to “expand physical and digital connectivity” by improving both physical and digital infrastructure. These are perceived to “improve access of the poor to basic services including water supply and sanitation, public transportation, affordable energy and flood protection infrastructure, and improve climate resilience.”

As recovery cannot be attained without digitalization, there must be more investments from government in financing the expansion and improvement of network infrastructure aligning with ongoing private sector builds to expand internet services.

And while the basic demand of the population is having access to affordable broadband services, the government and telecommunications companies should collaborate in speeding up the construction of sufficient telco towers. In turn, the policy environment must be conducive for domestic and foreign investments to be poured into strategic telecommunications infrastructure.

Nevertheless, harnessing the full power of digital technology relies on the development of the country’s workforce potential. Optimizing the appropriate technology will need the constant upgrading of information technology skillsets to enable Filipinos to thrive in the digital world.

On May 20, the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute published the book Beyond the Crisis: A Strategic Agenda for the Next President to highlight the digital challenges for the new government.

In its third section, themed “Governance, Health and Environment Agenda,” the chapter entitled “Digitalization Agenda 2022: Towards a Resilient Philippines Through Digital Transformation and Inclusion,” authored by Sherwin E. Ona, Non-Resident Fellow of the institute, put forward key recommendations.

We must first craft a Philippine digitalization strategy and roadmap so that “goals, phases and milestones in achieving digital transformation, addressing the digital divide and securing digital infrastructure” could be set.

Second, government must support the creation of communities of practice which will support the research and development and the creation of innovation hubs.

Third, a Digitalization Summit of the private sector, civil society, and the academe, among others, needs to be convened “to determine the priority areas of the digitalization strategy.”

Fourth, new laws on digital governance for service integration, interoperability, and data governance in the public sector; and cyber defense posture to address current and future threats, should be crafted.

Hence, the Marcos Jr. administration and the DICT must see to it that the digitalization pronouncements will be implemented and achieved.

For digitalization to succeed, the critical factor is the participation of and collaboration with the private sector and civil society.

In this manner, the challenges borne by the digitalization thrust could be converted into inclusive development opportunities as the Philippines endeavors to become a new power player in the global digital economy.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.