MANY Filipinos remain poor despite being eager adopters of new technology, highlighting the necessity of addressing the needs of the greater population while upgrading competitiveness, Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo said at the Philippine Business Conference at The Manila Hotel Wednesday.

She said in a keynote speech that the potential of technology to put people out of work should be top of mind as the Philippines undergoes digitization in order to maintain its high-growth track.

Ms. Robredo warned that growth does not necessarily equate to a better life for all.

“Even though Filipinos are early adaptors of technology, 21% of our people are still living below the poverty line. The poor continue to be poorer,” she said.

She added it is easy to get sidetracked into offering the benefits of technology only to those who can afford it.

Ms. Robredo in her keynote urged that the government and private sector work to together and use innovation to “uplift the lives of people, especially the marginalized.”

Ms. Robredo said her office will be connecting female entrepreneurs from the Visayas and Mindanao to e-commerce platforms to allow them to sell handicrafts online.

“We need to fund innovation not for technology’s sake but for the sake of our people,” she said.

Panel discussions later in the day tackled upskilling and retraining workers for the digital age.

Employers Confederation of the Philippines President Sergio Ortiz Luis said that the Philippines must invest in connecting micro, small and medium enterprises to resources for training workers, and to focus on engineering and information technology education for workers.

Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Deputy Director General Rossana A. Urdaneta said the agency is preparing granular action plans to address worker education by anticipating the skills needed for jobs as industries change, and creating curriculums based on industry needs.

Transport app Angkas Head of Regulatory and Public Affairs George Royeca said in a panel that transportation regulation affects millions of lives, with his company viewing road congestion as a constraint to freedom.

He linked access to public transportation to the welfare of the broader population and added that Angkas worked with the government to develop safety standards for its motorcycle taxi service.

Philippine Fintech Association President Amor Maclang said that despite problems with digital infrastructure, regulation from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has been supportive of financial technology solutions.

“The Philippine start-up scene is exciting, and it’s burgeoning,” she said. “The government does not have all the tools yet, but it’s working as agile as it can given the circumstances.” — Jenina P. Ibañez