The Senate on Wednesday, May 17, passed on second reading a bill that will create a new department whose function, among other things, is to establish a free Internet service in public places and schools.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto, sponsor of Senate Bill 2686 or the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Act of 2015, said the passage of the measure is a huge step forward in this age of computers and Internet.
“With the creation of this department, the government can now focus on promoting digital literacy, information and communications technology (ICT) expertise, and knowledge-building among citizens to better equip them in an evolving ICT age,” the senator said.
Recto, chairman of the Science and Technology committee, said, “the DICT will establish a free Internet service that can be accessed in government offices and public areas using the most cost-effective telecommunications technology.”
It will improve and maintain the existing ICT infrastructures and establish new ones in “unserved areas, in consultation with the local government units, civil society organizations, private sector and the academe.”
Among the powers and functions of the DICT is the “identification and prioritization of all e-government systems and applications” as provided for in the E-Government Masterplan and the Philippine Development Plan.
On the education front, Recto said the DICT will formulate policies and initiatives to develop and promote ICT in education, in coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
SB 2686 is a consolidation of five bills authored by Sens. Antonio Trillanes, Teofisto Guingona III, Loren Legarda, JV Ejercito, Sonny Angara, also taking into consideration the bills of Sens. Miriam Santiago, Bam Aquino and Jinggoy Estrada.
Replying to earlier concern that the creation of the new department will result in a big bureaucracy, Recto said the “DICT’s organization will be lean.”
“It will not create a huge bureaucracy, or burn a deep hole in the taxpayer’s pocket. It will be revenue-neutral, and will maintain, if not lessen, the present operating cost of the agencies which will be folded into it,” Recto said.
“For example, we’re trying to limit the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries. In the creation of regional offices, we won’t be making it mandatory. Why have a large physical office when one of its mandates is to promote e-governance?” Recto said.
Recto said senators recognize information and communications technology as the third utility, after power and water.
“It is also the third biggest source of dollars after electronics and OFW remittances. It is a growth driver. Every 10 percentage points increase in broadband penetration is said to boost the GDP by 1 percent,” he said.
On the public sector side, Recto said a government which spends P2.5 trillion a year “needs a DICT to get more bang out of the buck, and prevent bribe from being squeezed out of the peso.”
“We are now living in the electronic republic, where views of the sovereign are advocated online, and services must be rendered to them on the same platform,” he said.
“Permits, licenses, land titles should now be electronically-applied for, processed and issued,” Recto said.