Access to data, info a right and a privilege–DICT chief

Digital transformation is key to recovering from the pandemic and becoming competitive in the long term, but the strategy to close the digital gap and achieve digital readiness hinges on the empowerment of Filipinos.

This is the main takeaway from Digital Readiness PH, a virtual town hall discussion led by think tank Stratbase ADR Institute, held recently. Representatives of the public and private sectors spoke on various topics and exchanged views on the need to be digitally ready—and, more importantly, on the manner of getting there.

The speakers were led by Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II, who said access to data and information has become a right and a privilege together with basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, education, health services and of course access to data.

“We envision a thriving digital nation wherein our people through complete, accurate, and timely information can make rational, intelligent, and long-term decisions which benefit their personal lives and society as a whole,” he said.

The DICT chief enumerated the efforts of his agency to accelerate the transformation, made even more urgent by the continuing Covid-19 pandemic and the many ways people maintain economic and other activities despite staying in their homes.

Central and crucial to the efforts, he said, are the capacity-building initiatives to upskill Filipinos.

Professor Dindo Manhit, president of ADR Institute, said in his opening remarks that the massive pursuit of digital readiness should take a developmental, people-centered paradigm.

He stressed that, “A people-centered approach must start with developing the people’s skill sets and values that will enable our work force to optimally build digital technologies.”

Manhit said, “In a new digital ecosystem, we need leaders for digital transformation. Champions in both the private and public sector that can inspire innovations that would integrate the disconnect between processes, policies, and even flaws in governance that have been exposed.”

Leadership must likewise be people-centered. Manhit pointed to the role of digital champions from both the public and private sectors. “They can inspire innovations that would integrate the disconnect between processes, policies, and even flaws in governance that have been exposed,” he added.

Reinforcing Manhit’s statement, Secretary Honasan added: “No matter how hard we try to harness the power of technology, ICT, artificial intelligence, algorithms, the entire array of tools at our disposal, it is actually our efforts to connect people to each other and develop a face-to-face engagement where we can read the body language that is not reflected in our digital engagements.”

He also emphasized the necessity of partnerships with the private sector to augment government budget constraints and benefit from industry expertise.

Guest speakers in the forum were: Globe Telecom Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of Corp. Communications, Ma. Yolanda Crisanto; Smart Communications Vice President for Regulatory Affairs, Atty. Roy Cecil Ibay; Facebook Philippines Public Policy Head, Clare Amador; Microsoft Philippines Public Sector Director, Joanna Rodriguez; Grab Philippines Head of Public Affairs, Sherielysse “Booey” Bonifacio; and HP Philippines Managing Director, Christian Edmond Reyes.

In his closing remarks, Orlando Oxales, lead convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines, acknowledged that Philippine telcos have been stepping up to their role by aggressively investing on their networks as a response to the exponential surge in the demand for data.

Oxales pointed out that, “Given the problems of the education sector made worse by this crisis, what may be more challenging is developing the ICT skills of Filipinos to ensure the readiness of the country’s work force. This is critical for the country’s global competitiveness.”

“As we look forward to another transition in our government. We must choose leaders who can be transformation champions in a highly digitized global ecosystem,” said Oxales.

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