PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, July 27, 2020, delivered his State of the Nation Address (Sona) with a warning to telecommunication companies that they will be shut down if they do not improve their services to support government efforts in strengthening digital learning platforms.
Duterte’s frustration with the current telecommunications services in the country led to the entry of a third telecommunications company, Dito Telecommunity Corp. (formerly known as Mislatel).
Dito, a joint venture between Davao businessman Dennis Uy’s Chelsea Logistics Holdings Corp. and China Telecommunications Corp., had targeted to start operations in mid-2020. The completion of its infrastructure facilities, however, has been delayed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
Uy was one of the businessmen who donated millions to the Duterte presidential campaign in 2016.
The President also took back the approval he gave for limited face-to-face learning starting January 2021.
In his fifth Sona attended by select legislators and empty gallery, Duterte reverted to his earlier statement that he will not allow face-to-face learning until a vaccine against Covid-19 becomes available.
“I cannot and will not put at risk the health and lives of our students and teachers,” he said.
When he approved the Department of Education (DepEd) program to allow face-to-face learning in areas with few to zero Covid-19 cases, Duterte said he was thinking that a vaccine would be available by September 2020.
He said he asked China President Xi Jinping four days ago to grant the Philippines credit for the acquisition of the vaccine as soon as this becomes available.
In lieu of face-to-face learning, DepEd is implementing multiple learning delivery modalities, including online distance learning platforms which are possible only with efficient telecommunications services.
Duterte expressed frustation again over the current state of telecommunications in the country.
He mentioned Smart Telecommunications, the mobile phone unit of the Pangilinan-led Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), and the Ayala-led Globe Telecom Inc.
“Smart, pati itong Globe, ilang taon na ito? Ang sagot palagi sa akin, ‘the party cannot be reached.’ Eh, saan pala pumunta ‘yung ‘y..a’ na ‘yon? (How many years have Smart and Globe been operating? The answer that I usually get is ‘the party cannot be reached.’ So where did that damn thing go?)” Duterte said.
He said telecommunications companies should boost their capitalization and improve their services, or government will be “forced to take drastic steps.”
“Alam mo, itong mga nagbibigay ng (these companies involve in giving) public services, you better improve. Huwag na man ninyo kaming pahintayin ng sampung taon bago kami makakamit ng mga (Do not let us wait for ten years before we can enjoy the) services that the other countries are enjoying,” he said.
The President added: “It is just a question of added capitalization, or the infusion of money. Go and look for it. Maghanap kayo because if you are not ready to improve, I might just as well close all of you and revert back to the line telephone. At kukunin ko ‘yan (frequencies), i-expropriate ko, sa gobyerno.”
Rep. Emmarie Ouano-Dizon (Cebu, 6th district) thanked the President for putting emphasis on shaping up the telecommunication sector of the Philippines.
Just like Dizon, Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa (Cebu City, south district) supported the President’s call to discipline the country’s telecommunications firms.
For Dizon, she said internet connection is also one of the basic needs of the current generation.
On the other hand, Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes agreed with the President, who said cooperation is key to the nation’s success.
Duterte also said television frequencies reverted back to the government for whatever reason shall now be used to provide uninterrupted quality education to the children.
He directed Cabinet members to craft a program to ensure that government gets first option to use television and broadband frequencies.
He mentioned Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña, Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio Honasan, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.
Duterte also vowed to implement the proposed Public Education Network (PEN) under the Public Schools of the Future Digital Rise Program.
“By 2022, before I step down, the PEN shall be realized. I’m referring to the program. I will, I will do it,” he said.
Under the program, the DepEd is rolling out the DepEd Commons, an online platform containing learning materials to support the continuous delivery of basic education.
The DepEd Commons was conceptualized in response to the 2012 Paris Open Educational Resources Declaration, but it is now being used to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic which has shut down schools in the country since mid-March.
Briones earlier said the DepEd Commons, which went live in March 2020, now has more than four million users, mostly learners from public and private schools, including those under the Alternative Learning System.
Since late April 2020, Briones said, access to DepEd Commons has been free for Globe and TouchMobile subscribers as well as for Smart, Sun, and TalkNText subscribers.
The President also urged the Senate and the House of Representatives to approve the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2), revive the death penalty via lethal injection, and facilitate economic recovery by passing another tax reform bill that will benefit the corporate sector.
Duterte listed his legislative agenda for the year. He thanked Congress for quickly passing the first Bayanihan measure—the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act which expired on June 25, 2020.
Before Duterte gave his Sona, Senate President Vicente Sotto III had said the Senate will prioritize the second Bayanihan measure in its session Tuesday, July 28.
The Senate passed its version of the bill, Senate Bill 1564, on second reading before its sine die adjournment in June. The House, on the other hand, has yet to tackle the measure.
The Senate bill aims to extend the powers granted to President Duterte under Republic Act 11469 to carry out national policies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It seeks to repeal a provision of the first Bayanihan law which granted the President the power to take over hospitals and other private facilities amid the Covid-19 crisis.
It will also remove the power of law enforcers to arrest or penalize individuals who violate quarantine policies.
Cebu business groups
The Filipino-Cebuano Business Club (FilCeb), which is composed of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), said the President failed to give a detailed explanation on how the government would help small businesses.
“So far, we heard of P1 billion allocation for MSMEs through SB (Small Business) Corp. with zero interest. But, I think, this is quite small for the whole 99.6 percent MSME sector. We have not heard the President said anything about stimulus package except those that has already been approved in the Bayanihan Act which already expired,” Filceb president Rey Calooy said.
Duterte, in his Sona, mandated the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to provide regulatory relief for MSMEs and allow loan payment extension without incurring penalties and charges.
He also instructed the Department of Agriculture and Department of Trade and Industry to come up with agri-business and entrepreneurship to help the displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). He also tasked Landbank and other government financial institutions to provide low interest loans to them as well.
Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) president Felix Taguiam said Duterte touched all the salient points of their thrust for the recovery of the economy.
For Mandaue of Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Steven Yu, he said Mandaue City “is at the forefront of the entrepreneurship spirit in Cebu” in terms of hiring manpower to provide jobs to OFWs.
“However, new businesses cannot yet compensate for the number of businesses that closed. It’s a continuing work in progress and we would like to push it towards IT (information technology) and other creative industries,” Yu said. (MVI, TPM, JOB, KFD, JJL)