Message at the 10th National ICT Confederation of the Philippines ICT Summit
Avenue Plaza Hotel, Naga City
Usec. Monchito Ibrahim of the Department of Information and Communications Technology; Mr. Tony del Carmen, President, National ICT Confederation of the Philippines, and the rest of the NICP Board; of course, my good friend, Mr. Danny de Leon, the Summit Chairperson, NICP, and Head of the ICT Bicol Summit; the Naga City local officials who are here with us this morning; industry members; members of the academe; my fellow workers in government; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Marhay na aga saindo gabos! Welcome to Naga City! [applause]
We are always proud to have visitors here with us. Both my husband and I were born and raised here. All our children were also born and raised here. Except for college, all of us studied here in Naga. And we are very proud of our city, and we hope that during your stay here, you will have the opportunity to go around and enjoy our beloved city.
Today, the world is in the throes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and what is real to all of us is bound to change in many ways in the coming years. Technology is the source of most of that change.
In the latest issues of The Economist, there is already talk of revamping kilogram and other forms of measurement, caffeine-free tea, underwater mining using a new robot system, genetic engineering, and using artificial intelligence to analyze how fast or how slow people are moving so that trains are always on time.
It is a very exciting time for all of us. But as it is, so many things that those in my generation used to think were impossible can now be done very, very easily—even by children. Industry, transport, communications, media, development work, and even things such as art, are all enveloped by a sense of dynamism and wonder at how far we can push the limits of the human brain, and perhaps even transcend it.
But in a small community in Sumisip, Basilan, which is one of our adopted communities, near the southernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago, a whole town has electric power only four hours each day and only in selected areas. The Mayor and the local leaders there are hard at work in keeping peace, enforcing good governance and transparency, improving the public school system, developing natural resources, and invigorating the business environment. But they told us, what good is a smartphone—today’s ubiquitous icon of technological advancement—when they cannot even charge it? What is worse, we also have adopted communities that have no electricity at all as of this time.
So perhaps the world’s problems with inequality are most pronounced when we look at how we consume technology. Technology has real potential for reducing the gap between the rich and poor, but the question is: Can it? And does it, really? Because ultimately, we cannot have technology just for the sake of it. Technology must serve a purpose, and the best mission it must fulfill is to improve the lives of those who, through no fault of their own, are disenfranchised, marginalized, or unable to break the bonds of poverty and suffering.
And I am pleased that today’s gathering will precisely answer that question: How can we use technology to create inclusive development in our country today? We only have to look around to see a huge chunk of our people languishing in poverty, whether in the province or in the very dense Metro Manila. If today’s technology can make the impossible possible, then what is stopping us from using it to eradicate hunger, poverty, even war?
I don’t have any answers. Honestly, I cannot even find some files in my computer sometimes. Kayong mga nandito, mahusay sa technology, pero ako, nagagalit sa akin parati ang mga anak ko, kasi every time I would look for something in my computer or in my cellphone, tatawagin ko pa sila. What I believe I can do is ask the right questions. And I expect that the very bright minds in this room today and the leaders of your industry will find the solutions for our people before it is too late. I repeat: we cannot look at technology for technology’s sake alone. It must improve our people’s way of life.
There are models and best practices that we can learn from. Some of these models have been put in place here in Naga City itself as far back as 20 or 30 years ago.
One of the things that my husband, Jesse, did when he was mayor was the iGovernance program. If you recall, in 1995, computers and the internet were just starting to creep into our consciousness—at least here in Naga. Si Danny, napakalaking tulong to the City Government at that time. [applause] But already, Jesse then wanted to engage ordinary Nagueños in local governance and increase their access to local decision-making process by using technology. So over his first two terms as mayor, Jesse harnessed emerging information technologies to improve, enhance, and redefine traditional notions of governance.
For instance, the website was re-designed and it used cutting-edge IT to provide real-time, accurate, relevant, and engaging information about our city; it included information not only about the basic statistics of our city, but also urban indicators and statistics, tourism assets, investment opportunities, and even city maps. A tool called NetServe provided an extensive catalog of services provided by the City Government, directed equally at investors and the upper-class, as it is to the urban poor, social welfare beneficiaries, and recipients of education programs. Requests for streetlight maintenance, for example, are acted upon within 24 hours for both the businessmen and the urban poor.
The program changed the LGU in ways people did not expect. Computerizing records for real property tax and business license tax, for example, made corruption difficult to do. Manipulation of data that existed in many different people’s computers is a complicated matter, and proved to be a major deterrent. The database on assessment of lot parcels, buildings, and machineries and their owners became easily accessible, making decision-making efficient and responsive to people’s needs. Everyone who needed information from the civil registry—a pain point in many City Halls—had an easier time.
City Hall workers had to adjust, of course, because the level of public service needed to support such a technological innovation massively became more demanding. But the end result was that Nagueños trusted their local government better, poverty levels were reduced, the business sector paid more taxes, among many other things.
Naga’s ICT initiatives caught the attention of many award-giving bodies. Naga’s iGovernance Program earned the prestigious Galing Pook Award in 1996. And then in 2006, Naga won the “Most Business-Friendly City” award from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, for three consecutive years, elevating it to the Hall of Fame. Naga is also a Hall of Famer of the Asian Institute of Management-Ford Foundation-Galing Pook Innovations Program Award and the Presidential Gawad Pamana ng Lahi Award of the Department of Interior and Local Government—also because of its ICT program. Kaya po ako natagalan umakyat; hindi ko narinig na ini-introduce po ako, because Danny was telling me that Naga City was also the first-ever awardee in the e-Governance—tama ba, Danny?—e-Governance Awards when it was launched 10 years ago. Dito din. So we have come full circle. [applause] And by exalting Naga’s virtues, I saw Mayor Bongat come in. Let us also give a hand to Mayor Bongat, who was instrumental, who was instrumental in bringing Naga to even greater heights. [applause] Under po sa term ni Mayor Bongat, umaani kami ng award after award after award. Recently we just earned the Galing Pook awards and many other awards after that.
Our experiences and successes in our city became my husband’s inspiration when he was appointed Secretary of the Interior and Local Government in 2010. The first thing he did after he was appointed by the President was to issue the Full Disclosure Memorandum Circular, ordering all local government units and all attached offices and agencies of the DILG to make public all their financial transactions and make them available in their respective websites.
All of these, however, still depend on the participation of each and every one of us. Because in the end, technology is still just an enabler. As long as humans fail to use it the right way, all the hard work poured into every innovation, all the hours of conceptualization, all the money spent to make those ideas come into fruition, will be all for nothing.
So may today’s convention be the spark that provides technology with soul and spirit and purpose. You have the skills, the clear sense of direction, the inspiration, and the empathy to make all of these happen. When you do, children and young people in places like Sumisip may finally be able to use computers to learn to speak a foreign language, or connect with a budding young scientist from the other side of the globe, or learn robotics through an online academy. The possibilities are really endless and the future unimaginably beautiful because there will be a lot less suffering, a lot less inequality, a lot less poverty.
Thank you very much for having me today! Dios mabalos saindo gabos! [applause]