Cabaero: DICT’s silence

Nini Cabaero

THERE is no better time to strengthen digital capabilities than now when companies and organizations are limiting physical movement of their personnel and resorting to arrangements that use digital tools.

With President Rodrigo Duterte’s community quarantine of Metro Manila and the Department of Labor and Employment advisory on flexible work arrangements, there is no other recourse but to use messenger groups, teleconferencing, electronic transmittal and other programs to connect, in order to still be productive.

Internet usage and the transmittal of bytes are expected to rise dramatically in the country with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) measures but there has been no recent statement from government assuring stable connectivity and readiness for the surge in online usage. Nothing from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) or the National Telecommunications Commission under it.

Metro Manila starts its lockdown on Sunday, March 15, 2020, until 30 days after, with the order of President Duterte to suspend domestic flights and sea travel to or from it. This and other measures for the declaration of community quarantine in barangays, cities and provinces were also put in place.

Classes have been suspended not only in Metro Manila but also in Metro Cebu and Cebu Province.

Work can be done from home. Studies can be continued online. Shopping can be enjoyed on virtual stores that also take care of physical delivery.

What we have not heard from is the DICT which is the government office responsible for the planning, development and promotion of the country’s information and communications technology.

The office may not have a direct impact on efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19, but its involvement is crucial to enable the country to move forward despite the prohibitions during the lockdown.

The DICT must be part of the discussions of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases headed by the Department of Health (DOH) that discusses daily the impact of the Covid-19 in the country. The DICT should be able to direct the task force on the viability of doing work online and make the needed assurances on the availability and stability of the country’s internet connections and programs that could help.

The DICT could have helped create communication channels for the task force or the DOH. It took the DOH several days to come up with a Viber group for the public to access its verified information. Prior to that, a lot of false information already spread through social media. While battling the virus, the DOH was left with fighting the disinformation.

The department is in charge of planning the country’s information and communications technology agenda, but it is silent about this ongoing health emergency.

Information is crucial in a public emergency. Government needs all the help it can get, but the DICT seems uninvolved.