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Group: Digital infra crucial to national development

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Digital infrastructure is crucial to economic recovery and development, but it can only be achieved if the Philippines has investment-friendly policies and if the combined workforces of the public and private sectors possess the digital skills that would support and sustain the transition.

This was the consensus from the virtual business roundtable dubbed “Promoting Broad-Based Prosperity Through Digital Infrastructure,” held September 7 and organized by the Stratbase Group in partnership with consumer group CitizenWatch Philippines.

 Professor Victor Andres Manhit, Stratbase Group president, said the Philippines needs both skills and business investments on every level – from the micro, small, and medium enterprises – to transform the Filipino citizenry into a new digital society.

“We need industries and services to grow stronger. We need manufacturing to grow stronger,” he said. “At the core of these is digital infrastructure,” Manhit said. 

But it would take a lot to encourage investments, both domestic and foreign, he added.

“We need confidence in our systems, we need legal frameworks like the Public Service Act and the Foreign Investment Act. These are the initiatives that will drive growth,” he said.

Manhit noted that building investor confidence is all about building the policy environment to sustain investment-led growth.

And if the Filipino people themselves have adapted to the digital environment, ushered in by the pandemic, then the government must ask itself if it is also ready to transform itself and its policies, he said.

“Government should transform its policy to work better with the private sector to transform the Philippines into a digitally ready society—from infra to systems, the use of other technologies, to push the economy forward.”

Globe Group president and CEO Ernest Cu said the pandemic showed how crucial digital technology and ICT are in daily life.

He said Globe has been providing digital solutions that enable businesses, including fiber connectivity, communication tools, payroll solutions, and even logistics trackers.

“Digital technology is an invaluable tool for business in allowing MSME operations in the digital space. This is especially crucial in the Philippines, where over 99 percent of businesses are MSMEs. We also need to build skills and upgrade talent so that non-tech people can understand the capabilities of technology,” he said.

“Other than connectivity, infrastructure, technology and innovation, there is People RWA – Readiness, Willingness, Ability,” Cu said. “Digitalization without purpose will lose its value.”

Cu also said the transition into being a digital nation will need relevant framework, policies and partnerships. “We need the national government, LGUs and other stakeholders in the private sector to collaborate.”

Emmanuel Estrada, Globe’s head of Regulatory Development and Strategy, raised the importance of ensuring a secure digital environment and explained that cybersecurity has two sides: the network side and the consumer side.

From the network side, telcos are working hard and making cybersecurity their priority. At the same time, they are educating users to be vigilant and careful in their use of technology.

“Establishing policies and, at the same time, raising awareness on online security, cybersecurity, and even the strong implementation of the Data Privacy Act (DPA) should also be part of our inclusive approach to addressing these problems and issues,” Estrada said.

Dr. S. Ismail Shah, APAC Meta (Facebook) head of Connectivity and Access Policy, discussed their investments in submarine cables, which would benefit the Philippines being located strategically in the region.

“There is a need to act quickly to capitalize on this opportunity and enhance the bandwidth and determination of cables in the Philippines,”

He also pointed out the importance of government-initiated enabling policies that would make the internet more available and stable are needed. “These should be supplemented by efficiencies in actually implementing those policies.”

Microsoft Philippines CEO Peter Maquera said that with digital skilling every person is empowered with the skills, the knowledge, and the opportunity to succeed in the digital economy which is crucial to achieving inclusive prosperity. 

“Closing the skills gap, supporting MSMEs, and driving an inclusive economic recovery will continue to require partnerships to bring technology and people together. So, this requires a partnership between companies and government agencies,” Maquera said.

For his part, CitizenWatch Philippines convenor Orlando Oxales said heavy investment by telcos to expand and upgrade digital infrastructures must be complemented by a competent workforce that have the matching skills for the digitalized operations of industries.

“We need to help government policy makers understand and act to address the resistance encountered by technology innovators because of bureaucratic gauntlets causing expensive delays in digital infrastructure builds. More so, an appreciation of the magnitude of investments required to develop and sustain a network of digital infrastructures to support convergent digital services we access regularly through our devices,” he said.

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