By Ylexis Kyle-Michael R. Rualo
Various organizations which took part in a forum meant to commemorate the Internet?s 20th anniversary in the Philippines have called for greater public participation in online platforms to allow more Filipinos to have access to important data and information.
The conference, which gathered the country?s digerati last Saturday, March 29, in Makati City, was organized by the non-government organizations Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) and Internet Society (ISOC) Philippines.
The event included speakers from the Asia Pacific Network Information Center, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Association of Progressive Communications, and Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance.
Veteran journalist Ed Lingao and Karol Ilagan from PCIJ presented ?Money Politics? ? a data journalism project and citizens? resource with over 25 years of public research and documents. The site focuses on data and information regarding elections, public funds, and governance.
Money Politics has the goal of furthering ?political numeracy? in order to promote access to information and participation from the public in dissemination of information. It now has 6,493 files ranging from statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth to certificates of candidacy.
Despite having a treasure trove of data such as elective and appointed officials? asset records, campaign finance, national budget, ?pork? and civil works contracts for public monitoring, the site has tallied only 89,545 page views or 43,216 visits since May 2013.
Lingao said that public participation is needed in order to promote its goal of furthering political numeracy in serving as a watchdog of the government. The public can donate documents to provide leads for PCIJ to follow and contribute to increasing viewership and engagement, he said.
DBM?s Gabe Baleos, meanwhile, presented Open Data Philippines ? an initiative that seeks to provide citizens access to government data through machine-readable and open formats and push for open data agenda within the government.
The Open Data Philippines Task Force, which is composed of the Office of the Presidential Secretary, DBM and Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, has partnered with 50 government agencies so far.
The program encourages government agencies to publish inventory of all data sets on their website. Published data will then be obtained by Open Data Philippines and added to its database of government documents and records.
However, Baleos clarified that it is still the agencies? discretion on what data to be made available, taking into account proprietary, privacy, and national security concerns.
DBM?s Ivy Ong said that the citizens have the power to dictate what data sets should the Task Force push to acquire. ?We?re infusing the spirit of (the) Freedom of Information (bill) with Open Data (Philippines),? she added.
FMA?s Lisa Garcia, on the other hand, presented Take Back the Tech ? an online initiative meant to provide women a platform against technology-related violence.
The website aims to encourage women to participate in the mapping of reports while also sharing their stories to spread awareness.
Garcia added that the platform also has the goal of informing the public that violence is also happening online and not just offline.
Also present in the celebration were the pioneers of the Philippine Internet? ? Dr. William ?Bill? Torres, Dr. Rodolfo Villarica, and Benjie Tan.
It was on March 29, 1994 at 1:15 a.m. when the Philippines was successfully connected to the rest of the world via the Internet when Tan activated the leased line connection that linked Pilnet, now known as PHNet, during the First International Email Conference in Cebu.
Torres, the first Filipino to acquire a doctorate in computer science, was the one who brought the concept of the Internet into the country after gaining knowledge in Washington about the conversion of the Internet as a research system into a commercial product. After going back to the country, he initiated the project called Industrial Research Foundation (IRF) to enable the country to go online.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) was asked by the IRF to be the sponsor of the project. Villarica was made the administrator of the project on behalf of the DOST.
According to Torres and Villarica ? dubbed as the ?Fathers of the Philippine Internet? — the original goal of bringing the Internet to the country was to provide the Philippines access to the free flow of information worldwide.
Villarica said that while the Philippines has already benefited immensely from the information that can be obtained online, there?s still a lack the capacity to produce more information as compared to the amount contributed by other countries.
Another objective of connecting the country to the Internet was to provide every Filipino the opportunity to access beneficial information online, Torres said.
He said: ?We?ve gone a long way, but we still have a lot to fix to be able to say that the Internet has benefited everyone.?
Torres stated that the goal of having the Internet accessible to everyone can only be accomplished if even the marginalized sectors have the opportunity to do so.