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Window narrows for elusive DICT measure

Posted on May 05, 2016

THE WINDOW is narrowing to enact under the current administration a proposed law long championed by major business chambers to better develop the country’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector, but towards which Malacañang has proven lukewarm.

An applicant (right) for a call center position takes a test at a job fair at the World Trade Center in Pasay City in this Sept. 24, 2009 photo. -- BW File Photo
Roughly four months after being ratified by Congress -- and with a little more than a month left before this administration ends -- the measure that will form an ICT department (DICT) has yet to land on the president’s desk for signing.

“The DICT bill has not yet been transmitted by Congress to OP [Office of the President],” said Undersecretary Bernardito E. Sayo of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office of the House of Representatives in a text message forwarded by Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma, Jr.

House Bill No. 6198, which the Senate adopted -- hence, foregoing the need for a bicameral conference committee to iron out any difference between versions -- was ratified by both chambers in December last year.

“We are in the process of submitting it to the OP; [I] don’t know why the delay,” House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” R. Belmonte, Jr. said in a text message on May 3 when asked for updates.

John D. Forbes, senior adviser of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said that the business community has been advocating the establishment of a DICT for “over a decade.”

This is the closest the measure has gotten to being enacted.

“The entire business community had been optimistic that it would be enacted in the 15th Congress,” Mr. Forbes said in a phone interview yesterday.

But the measure didn’t reach Malacañang during the 2010-2013 15th Congress because the conference committee failed to meet, he recalled.

Mr. Belmonte had said in June last year that lawmakers forming the bicameral conference committee in 2013 no longer acted on the measure, “because we got word that Malacañang will veto it...”

While it has constantly formed part of foreign and local business chambers’ legislative priorities, the DICT measure has never been included in Malacañang’s separate list since President Benigno S. C. Aquino III assumed office at noon of June 30, 2010.

“The DICT, which almost all countries have, will provide appropriate focus and support to the country’s massively important ICT sector,” 18 major local and foreign business chambers said in a joint May 15, 2015 letter to Mr. Aquino.

The country's business process outsourcing sector already rivals -- in terms of volume and growth -- remittances from overseas Filipino workers as a key source of dollar inflows for the economy.

Last year saw growth of OFW remittances slow to 4.6% to $25.767 billion from $24.628 billion in 2014, which saw a bigger 5.8% annual increment.

In comparison, data e-mailed yesterday by the IT and Business Processing Association Philippines showed revenues of its members grew 12% to an estimated $21.3 billion last year from $18.99 billion in 2014 (though that year also saw a bigger 24% increment from 2013).

Article VI, Section 27 of the 1987 Constitution says that any measure submitted to Malacañang lapses into law if the President fails to act on it within 30 days from receipt.

“I think the unknown is the president’s position,” Mr. Forbes said.

“Hopefully the president would make it part of his legacy.” -- Roy Stephen C. Canivel