Benjie Tan, Pinoy engineer who connected PH to Internet, dies at 60

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Benjamin “Benjie” Tan, the Filipino engineer who installed and switched on the Cisco router that allowed the Philippines to connect to the Internet for the first time 25 years ago, has died. He was 60.

Photo shows Benjie Tan speaking during an outreach program to connect a local Aeta community to the Internet using improvised materials. (Photo credit: Xavier School Batch 1976)

Tan succumbed to cancer on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 26, at St. Luke’s Medical Center. According to fellow Xavier School alumnus and former tech journalist Edison Ong, Tan was confined in the hospital thrice this year for pneumonia and for radiotherapy to treat a lymph node mass that grew in his abdomen. “He was hoping to heal so he can return to Porac, Pampanga and repair the WiFi antenna for the benefit of the Aeta community there,” said Ong.

In 1994, Tan was then working for ComNet, a local supplier of Cisco networking gears, when he was tasked with setting up the router at the PLDT main office in Makati City that would subsequently make him the first person in the Philippines to connect to the Internet.

The low-key engineer had always downplayed his role in the country’s Internet history, saying he was just an ordinary employee acting under the direction of Drs. Rodolfo “Rudy” Villarica and William “Bill” Torres — the tech stalwarts who are now regarded as the “Fathers of Philippine Internet”. But the late tech pioneer Jim Ayson recounted Tan’s crucial job in a published article titled, “The night Benjie Tan hooked up the Philippines to the Internet.”

Ayson wrote: “[B]ehind every historic public tech spectacle is the quiet story of the techie working in the background to set things up before the newsreel cameras start rolling. There is a private side to March 29, 1994, which incredibly enough seems to have been left out of much of the numerous newspaper and magazine articles describing the events of that day. Luckily I managed to corner Benjie Tan, the man behind-the-scenes that day, and persuaded him into letting us know what really went on. This is his story.”

The article went on to narrate how Tan worked alone in the wee hours of the morning of March 29, 1994 to link up the Philnet project to Sprint Communications in California, USA.

Prior to his untimely passing, Tan’s last known employer was Globe Telecom. Aside from Philnet, he also had a stint at Mozcom, the country’s first ISP (Internet service provider).

As a tribute to his contributions to the industry, Tan was recognized by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) during the 25th anniversary of Philippine Internet held this year.

Benjie Tan’s wake is at Chapel 9 of the Heritage Park in Taguig City. Inurnment is on Dec. 30 after the 1:00 PM mass.

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