As the Philippines seeks to do better in the post-pandemic world, some lawmakers are pushing for greater e-governance and e-commerce efforts as part of larger initiatives for digitalization, which means greater responsibilities for the related government agencies.
The pandemic showed everyone around the world, clearly and unequivocally, that all knowledge-related work, including learning and government work, can be done remotely, and that the use of digital and paperless apps can relieve a lot of the work that used to be done manually and in person.
First World countries have had these advantages for decades; we are still playing catch-up, but not due to lack of brains. We have the knowledge, we just don’t have the means and supportive policies. Some lawmakers are seeking to change that.
Among the recent bills related to digitalization is Sen. Bong Go’s e-governance bill that he refiled in the 19th Congress.
It requires the government to establish “an integrated, interconnected, and interoperable information and resource-sharing and communications network spanning the entirety of the national and local government, an internal records management information system, an information database, and digital portals for the delivery of public services,” according to the bill.
Another thing House Bill 3 or the E-Governance Act of 2022 is pushing for is an end to paper-based workflows. Those responsible for the implementation of this initiative are the heads of each agency, local government unit, and state corporation.
During the pandemic, Go said, long queues and the requirement for physical appointments with government agencies and other public offices unduly burdened the public. At the time, everyone was struggling with health restrictions – remember those pesky and largely unnecessary face shields? — shortened hours, reduced or suspended onsite working days, and other constraints to service delivery.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology will be the principal implementer of the proposed law.
Meanwhile, another set of lawmakers led by Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez is bannering their proposed Internet Transactions Act that aims to grow e-commerce in the country.
The bill seeks to “provide protection to consumers and merchants engaged in internet transactions” through the creation of the Electronic Commerce (E-commerce) Bureau to be placed under the Department of Trade and Industry.
Cited in the bill’s explanatory notes is a 2019 study by Google and Temasek that found total gross merchandise value (GMV) in Southeast Asia has hit $100 billion and is expected to reach $300 billion in 2025.
Sadly, the Philippines had the lowest GMV in 2019 among ASEAN nations at a measly P7 billion, “despite the Philippines’ estimated 76 million active Internet users and high internet penetration rate (71 percent vis-a-vis 54 percent global average), longer spent hours daily on the Internet (10 hours vis-a-vis global average of six hours and 42 minutes), and very high social media penetration for the population aged 13 and above (99 percent vis-a-vis 50 percent global average).”
The bill lists some of the problems preventing the growth of the local e-commerce sector, among them the lack of trust between consumers and merchants, low internet speed, poor last-minute delivery options, few payment schemes, and difficulties returning purchased items.
The proposed E-Commerce Bureau is supposed to be the point agency that will address some of these problems, particularly those related to trust building and the formulation of appropriate plans, policies, and programs. It can be expected that DICT will be roped in to help with this as well in terms of linkages and infrastructure.
These are two proposed laws that should be given serious attention if e-governance and digitalization is to swiftly proceed in the country.
The institutionalization and normalization of e-governance will vastly improve the service delivery of government agencies, LGUs, and other government bodies, while providing a good climate for e-commerce to grow will help solve the problem of expanding the economy amid pandemic restrictions without resorting to compelling employees to return to onsite work, as past president Rodrigo Duterte’s government did.
The challenge to the current administration is to step up and vastly improve government services in this regard, starting with the improvement of poorly performing internet infrastructure.
Rodrigo Duterte tried in a backhanded way to address this issue by bringing in a “third telco,” but it has not made itself felt in a practical and effective way that translates to the upliftment of actual life experience.
The field is still dominated by the usual players, who, to their credit, are seeking ways to improve their services, the cost of which, however, is passed on to consumers.
The new administration has a chance to leave a lasting positive legacy here, by supporting public and private sector efforts to promote and speed up digitalization efforts across all aspects of society.
In this short column, we have not even tackled the urgent need to improve online learning infrastructure. DICT will be at the forefront of such efforts, and we hope they are up to the challenge.