Marcos seeks PSAC’s help to accelerate PH Digital Infra, improve lives of Filipinos

IT HAS only been five months since their initial meeting in August 2022, but in another discussion with President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. on Thursday, January 12, the PSAC Digital Infrastructure group already showed fruitful results of their collaborations with government agencies.

PSAC Digital Infrastructure lead and Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) Chief Technology and Operations Officer Henry Aguda reported to the President that since the July 2020 implementation of the Anti-Red Tape Authority’s (ARTA) Joint Memorandum Circulars (JMC) to streamline guidelines on telco towers and Internet infrastructure, there has been great improvement in the efficiency of telco permit processing. For shared telco tower infrastructures, processing time has dropped from eight months to a mere 16 days, permit requirements have dropped from 13 permits to eight, and documentary requirements have dropped from 86 to 35.

Additionally, for the building of poles, construction of underground fiber ducts, and installation of aerial and underground cable and facilities to support Internet infrastructure, processing time was immensely shortened from two and a half years to just two and a half months.

This translated to an over 300 percent increase in tower construction, or 7,000 built towers. A current Executive Order (EO) that resulted in these improvements is set to expire in June 2023, which prompted PSAC to proactively recommend that President Marcos issue a new EO for the permanent adoption and enforcement of the ARTA JMCs by relevant government agencies and local government units. This would make it easier for telcos to expedite work and provide reliable, efficient, and faster Internet service across the country. ARTA Director General Ernest V. Perez was in attendance, supporting the call.

"PSAC fully agrees with the government that we are entering an age of adoption of technology. We are either left behind or we take that challenge head on. Here together, private and public sector, we are in a shared belief and commitment that technology has the power to uplift every Filipino. We saw it during the pandemic, and we see it as the path moving the nation forward and beyond," Aguda said.

The members of the Digital Infrastructure group provided invaluable insights and expertise into what digitalization could achieve for the country and, more importantly, the key steps to take to become a digital nation. Aguda was joined by the members of the PSAC Digital Infrastructure group: PLDT President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Al Panlilio, Globe President and CEO Ernest Cu, and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Chief Operating Officer (COO) Ramon Jocson.

PSAC strategic convenor and Aboitiz Group President and CEO Sabin Aboitiz, who was also present, underscored the value of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) for this administration as the Philippines revitalizes its local economy. PPPs address limited public funding and take advantage of private sector expertise.

President Marcos accepted PSAC’s recommendation to accelerate the adoption and implementation of the national Digital PhilID through PPPs before the end of 2023.

In light of concerns about port congestion and smuggling that negatively affect the economy and trade, PSAC recommended that the government consider digital solutions. PSAC suggested the President issue a JMC with multipartite agencies to establish an inter-agency mechanism for the implementation and deployment of the Trusted Operator Program-Container Registry Monitoring System (TOP-CRMS), complementing government anti-smuggling operations and capabilities.

PSAC also recommended convening Pilipinas GoDigital on January 30, focused on digital upskilling and education. The inclusive movement will reach out to all Filipinos, from the youth labor force, already known for agility and talent, to rural workers, who are the unsung backbone of our society, and will also include indigenous people, the elderly, and persons deprived of liberty, among others. GoDigital will take some cues from the success of UnionBank’s Tahanang Walang Hagdanan initiative to train differently abled persons as data analysts who can remotely monitor transactions.

Also present in the PSAC meeting were National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan, NEDA Undersecretary and Chief of Staff Melbourne Ziro D. Pana, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Undersecretary David L. Almirol, Jr., DICT Assistant Secretary for Upskilling Jeffrey Ian C. Dy, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) National Statistician and Civil Registrar General Claire Dennis S. Mapa, and Department of Transportation (DOT) Undersecretary for Maritime Elmer Francisco U. Sarmiento.(Press Release)