Monday, July 19, 2010


On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush was inaugurated as President of the United States. On the same date, I was in the Philippines to witness the installation of then Vice President of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) as de facto President of the Philippines if some critics were to be believed.

A few days after GMA’s installation, I wrote a brief concept paper and arranged for a family friend to rush deliver it to her personally. This family friend was an ex–Assumption nun who had direct access to GMA. To ensure the paper’s prompt delivery, I gave also copies to one of her relatives, and to one of her appointees as top executive of one of the country’s financial institutions. 

Defining the importance of technology in economic development, as well as other substantive roles that information and communications technology (ICT) play in the socio-economic and political development of the Philippines, I proposed that she appoints under the Office of the President, a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Information Officer (CIO)—or what President Obama now calls a “Technology Czar.”

Fully aware that she only had three years left of the unexpired term of deposed President Joseph Estrada, I also recommended that the Technology Czar fulfill the following tasks and / or responsibilities:

1. Develop and implement new policies in information and communications technology (ICT). (Timeline: 1-3 months)
2. Concurrently assume the position of Undersecretary for Communications and as Chairman of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). As such, the primary task would be building a national backbone or back-up highway connecting the rural areas to information and communications that would be accessible, available, and affordable to all citizens, government offices and institutions, and service providers. This would be the foundation for what I called at that time “e-Gov.” To be found in the archives of DOTC is a project entitled “Philippine Rural Interconnection Development Exchange” (PRIDE), which was originally developed as an expanded Government Emergency Communications Center à la Singapore’s “Smart Island” or Dubai’s “Smart City.” (Timeline: the first 12 months)
3. Move to the Department of Trade and Industry concurrently as Undersecretary with the primary task of building the infrastructure to establish and promote “e-Commerce” and “e-Business” among traders, industries, exporters, and importers, locally and globally. (Timeline: the next 12 months)
4. Move to the Department of Education concurrently as Undersecretary with the primary task of building the interconnectivity of all schools, academic institutions, and all direct and indirect providers of books, school supplies, and services. He would oversee the establishment and development of e-Learning or online education not only for students but also for training teachers and trainers. The e-book technology was envisioned to be introduced at that early stage. The teachers’ early exposure to computerization would also prepare them for the eventual automation of the electoral process. (Timeline: balance of the term)

I never got a response from GMA. I was reassured by my favorite former nun from Assumption, who is now my Facebook friend, that GMA got my paper.

What if GMA followed my proposal? What if technology was given first priority in her first three years as de facto President? Would she have needed Garci and the military to cheat in the 2003 Presidential elections? Would she have been de jure President instead?

I used to say that it would take a whole generation to turn things around in the Philippines. It would take a miracle or a magic wand to do it sooner. The closest thing to a miracle or a magic wand is technology. Somehow, new inventions and other mind-boggling technologies are God’s way of intervening in mankind’s efforts to institute socio-economic and political changes.

The death of Cory and the eventual election of her only son Noynoy as President are considered by many as results of Divine Intervention. In my endorsement of Noynoy I identified the 4 H’s (Hope, Honesty, Humility, Honor) and the E-Generation as the major factors.

As mentioned in the linked article, among other E’s, I fully expected President Noynoy to make use of new technologies especially in the information and communications field to create “miracles” or “magic” for the needed changes that the people are hoping for.

On this basis, I am quite surprised that until now, the technology team or ICT group that would help him accelerate development has not been formed. My contacts in Manila tell me that there are several groups competing to take the lead. They are all good groups who supported Noynoy’s candidacy. If they want Noynoy to succeed, they should all get together and divide the tasks of building an “e-Gov” and a national backbone and / or back-up highway that is accessible, available, and affordable to all sectors in order to achieve the following:

1. Poverty alleviation;
2. Reduction if not elimination of graft and corruption;
3. Business and economic development by being the source of knowledge, education, and human capital;
4. Availability of better information helping to improve education, health services, and national productivity;
5. Easy access to financial services;
6. Easy production and access to electronic reading materials for e-Learning;
7. Diffusion of new technology and ideas at the level of individual enterprises, the industrial sector, and the national economy;
8. Facilitating information flow and enhancing the communication between buyers and sellers;
9. Helping rural suppliers obtain information regarding demand and prices of their products and services in different markets; and
10. Better, frequent, and more affordable rates of communications between overseas Filipinos and their relatives in the Philippines.

Technology helped Noynoy Aquino win the elections as President. Technology should help him succeed as one. Or shall we pray for a “miracle”?

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