Perhaps realizing the urgency of the matter, the Senate on Monday, June 1, passed on third and final reading a bill seeking the creation of a new government agency, which would focus on the development of the country’s growing information and communications technology (ICT) sector.
It was a speedy approval of the bill, which has been refiled many times over in the past sessions of Congress. It can be recalled the DICT almost became a reality in 2012 when the Senate passed on final reading a bill creating the ICT department. A counterpart bill from the House of Representatives was also approved on the same year under the sponsorship of Taguig representative Sigfrido Tinga.
However, President Aquino, who was vocal in his opposition in the creation of the DICT, did not sign the bill until the proposed law lapsed with the adjournment at the 15th Congress in 2013.
This time around, the clincher for the bill apparently was the support of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which earlier blocked the formation of the DICT. Last year, the DOST changed its instance and has since thrown its support behind the bill.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto, chair of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology and sponsor of Senate Bill No. 2686, also known as the Department of Information and Communications Technology Act of 2015, said the measure aimed to promote digital literacy and ICT expertise across the country.
Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said the measure was part of the key economic reform legislation being pushed in the Senate to help the country adapt to major development challenges like the Asean market integration.
“The measure addresses the need for the Philippines to be at par with other Asean economies which have cabinet level departments for their ICT sector, especially with our flourishing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry and digitally-savvy populace,” Drilon said.
Recto said that once enacted into law, the DICT would be “the primary department in charge of developing, planning, and promoting the government’s ICT agenda.”
He said creating the DICT would link all government ICT resources and networks under an integrated and harmonized framework, “so that knowledge is transferred, resources are shared, databases are built and agency networks are linked together.”
He said having an integrated government database would help improve services and expedite information requests to government offices and officials, such as applications for state-issued documents.
“Permits, licenses, land titles should now be electronically-applied for, processed and issued,” Recto said.
He said the DICT would establish a free Internet service that ordinary Filipinos could access in government offices and public areas “using the most cost-effective telecommunications technology.”
“The DICT is also mandated to beef up consumer protection policies to protect consumers against lousy service, and at the same time ensure business users’ right to privacy,” he added.
The DICT, Recto said, would also be tasked to encourage the growth of the ICT industry, by promoting investment opportunities for ICT firms, as well as by creating local and international partnerships to speed up industry growth and competitiveness.
He said the DICT would work with the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in “mainstreaming ICT in schools and manpower development to ensure that the country’s human resources are ICT-competent.”
Recto said that the DICT would be created by merging existing ICT-related agencies under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC); namely the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICT Office), the National Computer Center (NCC), the National Computer Institute (NCI), the Telecommunications Office (TELOF), and the National Telecommunications Training Institute (NTTI).
Also under the proposed measure, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the National Privacy Commission (NPC) and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC) would be attached to the DICT for the coordination and implementation of the country’s cyber security policies and programs.
SBN 2686 is a consolidation of bills filed by Senators Recto, Loren Legarda, Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, Jinggoy Estrada, Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Cynthia Villar.