MAP Insights

June is Philippine National ICT (information and communications technology) Month and every year, I write articles I’m passionate about like those years of advocacy for the creation and a mandate of a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), digital transformation, cybersecurity and on effective ICT program implementation and agile methodologies.

Today, it is on the clarion call for solutions to improve Philippine Wi-Fi for us to maximize the potential benefits of digital trade. Filipinos are tired of waiting for decades for Philippine internet to improve. There are myriad possibilities for the Philippines to harness the potential, for example, of digital trade for exports or for domestic consumption. Filipinos stand to gain on digitally enabled transactions of trade in goods, data, and services that can either be digitally or physically delivered, and that involve consumers, companies, and our government.

While all forms of digital trade are enabled by digital technologies, not all digital trade is digitally enabled. Digital trade can involve digitally enabled but physically delivered trade in consumer goods through an online marketplace; or booking a hotel stay, a tour, a ride, or a flight through an online application.

Digitalization has indeed changed how we trade goods and services. It has given rise to many issues to be addressed by our policy- or law-makers, including the physical management of goods, the implications of risk management in relation to counterfeit goods or biosecurity standards, and revenue implications to the collection of taxes. In spite of the many barriers, the Philippines still stands a fast-growing market for digital trade in Asia because of its dynamic economy and because of a large population proficient with digital technologies.

Our policy-makers must address various areas of concern in order to realize the full potential of digital trade, including the development of frameworks and e-commerce governance to maximize the benefits and scale up its adoption. We need rapid access to data and should continue to address data privacy and cybersecurity concerns and constraints on cross-border digital trade.

The business groups have been clamoring for various solutions, one of which is the approval of legislation to promote competition among telcos and data service providers in the country. There is a clarion call for the Senate to approve Senate Bill 1763 or the Open Access in Data Transmission Act. This legislation aims to “promote the construction and development of reliable, affordable, open, and accessible data networks that transmit information at speed and quality comparable to the best in the world” by promoting the sharing of infrastructure and services among service providers.

The bill expresses a regulatory framework to address the gaps in our existing laws which do not align with changes in technologies. We can have decentralized, distributed, and redundant data services which is consistent with how the internet technology works. Since the last decade, we have failed to clarify and strengthen the role of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) especially at this time when it is crucial in a digital environment. The role of the “C” in ICT when it used to be just “IT” has been more imperative.

Digital trade will use significant amounts of data services and the scale should allow service providers in that business to roll out Wi-Fi services all over the country and promote regional and inclusive progress for the Filipino people.

In fact, the long-awaited and promised government services in the barangays can be delivered. Of course, we will need robust applications and technical architecture to be in place. No amount of fast internet can deliver service functions if there are undesigned or unplanned business applications. And, who knows? Maybe, we can make the Ease of Doing Business Act also work. The country will need to deal not only with brick-and-mortar businesses but also MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprises) that will be transacting online.

This pending Open Access in Data Transmission Act can give our country a dynamic and competitive telecommunications and data services sector. For our telco reform challenges, it is understandable that the solutions can come from changes in policies, operations, the social system, and technologies. Of course, technology changes at a faster pace than policies, operations, and social systems. The solution cannot be addressed in a single stroke like a long-awaited third telco.

We cannot ignore that digital trade is here and it is in our interest to ensure a solid business ecosystem for the benefit of our people. The social system transformation may no longer pose the biggest challenge because digital natives are everywhere.

The changes needed are in different regulations where there are obsolete provisions not aligned with the technological revolution. Even the notion that the Philippines has a strong environment for digital trade and does not have significant restrictions on cross-border data flows is not all true.

Hinrich Foundation cited in a recent report titled “Data Revolution” that in the “Digital Trade Restrictiveness Index” developed by the European Centre for International Political economy (ECIPE), the Philippines has “significant restrictions in place” with regard to its openness to foreign investment in digital sectors. The Securities and Exchange Commission requires that only Filipino nationals may own the commercial operation of an online platform to market or sell third-party products and services. Therefore, it will be an impediment to foreign-owned digital operations which are opportunities for direct investments in the country.

But let us leave all these to our newly elected congressmen and senators to review and make their stand for a supportive digital age.

The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.


Helen Perez-Macasaet is the Chair of the MAP ICT Committee and the Chair and CEO of Pentathlon Systems Resources, Inc.