SINCE commercial internet connectivity spread into the domain of the developing world in the late 1990s, the Philippines has been a consistent laggard among the 15 Asia Pacific countries monitored by Akamai Technologies Inc. Akamai, an American content delivery network and cloud services firm, observed the traffic of an estimated 1 billion web users a day in the third quarter of 2016.

The latest available data (Q3 2016) from the company showed 76 of the 144 qualifying countries saw quarterly increases in average peak connection speeds, but the Philippines was among the 66 countries that registered declines, albeit at 0.1 percent, together with Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine.

“In the third quarter, for the first time, all 15 of the surveyed Asia-Pacific countries/regions had average connection speeds above the 4 Mbps broadband threshold. Seven of these exceeded the 10 Mbps threshold—the same as in the second quarter. India and the Philippines once again had the lowest average connection speeds among surveyed countries/regions in Asia Pacific, at 4.1 Mbps and 4.2 Mbps, respectively,” according to Akamai’s State of the Internet Q3 2016 report.

But if we are to believe the recently created Department of Information Communications and Technology (DICT), change is coming, especially in the aftermath of the two-day Philippine Telecoms Summit 2017 held from March 9 to 10.

Even Akamai thinks so, too, banking on last year’s pronouncements by the DICT: “Also, the new administration of the Philippines—a nation with one of the lowest broadband speeds and adoption rates in the region—looks to be prioritizing faster connectivity throughout the country, including the announcement of a new Department of Information and Communication Technology responsible for planning the deployment of fiber and wireless technologies nationwide.”

Because the so-called industry duopoly of PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom Inc. are the dominant players here, it is easy to heap all the blame on them for the sorry state of internet connectivity in this country. But as ICT Secretary Rodolfo Salalima made it clear, the summit was not organized as a blaming-game to find a convenient scapegoat. That approach was supposedly a handshake deal among the DICT, the telcos, the consumer groups, the National Telecommunications Commission and the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunication Operators to get the whole spectrum of stakeholders on board. Rather, the intent was to find solutions to the problems dogging the industry.

Of course, a lot is at stake, based on the latest numbers of Internet Live Stats. Some 44.47 million more Filipinos were connected to the internet, or more than 43.5 percent of the estimated 102.25-million population, as of July 2016.

It remains to be seen, but it seems to be the right approach. The DICT has done two things, supposedly only the first steps to finding solutions to the internet speed and pricing problems. The department drafted a bill to be filed in Congress for sponsorship, basically seeking to mandate private villages and subdivisions nationwide to open their gates so the telcos can build more cell phone towers that tap into the radio frequencies assigned to them by the government. Having more cell sites allow telcos to fill the gaps in cellular networks that would otherwise make for patchy connectivity.

The DICT also drafted an executive order (EO) for the Office of the President to review and approve. The draft EO cuts the red tape at the local government level to pieces by ordering city and municipal halls to approve a permit for constructing a cell site within seven days, or else the request is considered a done deal beyond that time frame despite the lack of action. As NTC Chairman Gamaliel Cordova pointed out during the summit, 25 to 30 permits must be issued at the LGU level, a process that takes roughly eight months, before a telco can start to build single cell site.

To break the duopoly, the DICT has called for local and foreign investors to take a look at the possibilities in the country. He stressed that a third industry player is a must to address the problems of internet speed, pricing and coverage.

And to make sure telcos put to good use those precious non-financial assets vital to the telecom industry, the DICT vowed to confiscate the unused radio frequencies assigned by the NTC to holders of telecommunications franchises.

Yes, change is coming. But until it has arrived, the Filipino internet consumer can only hope for better connectivity while he watches the loading prompt on the device screen go round and round.
Published in Commentaries
The Social Security System (SSS) on Thursday said more than two million pensioners will benefit from the second tranche of the P1,000 additional benefit that will be released Friday.

In a statement, SSS said P2.07 billion will be released to qualified members.

“We are happy to inform our regular pensioners that the P1,000 additional benefit differential for February 2017 is now deposited in the respective bank accounts of our pensioners. This is the second happy Friday for SSS pensioners,” SSS President and Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Dooc said.

“From the 2.04 million pensioners for the month of January, almost 30,000 were added in our list for the beneficiaries for February. We are expecting that the number of pensioners who will enjoy the P1,000 additional benefit will continue to increase in the coming months,” he added.

The pension fund released last Friday about P2.04 billion to its pensioners for the January 2017 differential.

The P1,000 additional benefit for the month of March will be given on March 17.

Pensioners under special cases will receive their P1,000 increase on March 31, May 12 and 26. These include death claims with more than one payee and one of them is overpaid; payees with withheld share; Special Pension System, pension with payees under different guardians; and those covered by a Bilateral Social Security Agreement between the Philippines and other countries and the Portability Law.

Also, pensioners on suspended status due to non-compliance with the Annual Confirmation of Pensioners but are up for resumption from January to March will get the additional benefit on March 31, provided they have already reported to SSS for the resumption of their monthly pension.

Pensioners who availed of the advance 18 months retirement pension from August 2015 onwards will receive the additional P1,000 on May 12 to cover the remaining months starting January 2017.

Pensioners with settled initial disability, death and retirement claims from November 2016 to April 2017 as well as those who filed for adjustment in their pension can withdraw their P1,000 on May 12.

“Starting April, all regular pensioners, will receive the updated amount of their pension. This means that their regular monthly pension will automatically increase by P1,000,” Dooc said.
Published in News
Wednesday, 04 January 2017 23:48

Area development, subsidiarity and federalism

TIMES of crisis are windows for great opportunity. That is an old Chinese saying. But in these troubling times (for many), what opportunities indeed lie ahead? There are quite a few and the promising thing is they seem to be opportunities that would open up given current trajectories or the way things are unfolding. Indeed, 2017 may be the year that developmental change finally proceeds.

The world is shifting away from the international policies of recent decades that, while they have created well-being for unprecedented billions of people, have likewise resulted in great tensions. Not just tensions between peoples but tensions between people and their environment and even tensions inside people due to an identity overly linked to consumerism rather than their inherent truths; consumerism that threatens the very sustainability of Mother Earth.

One such opportunity is the re-emergence within government of the area development paradigm or development framework under Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez. While Sixto K. Roxas was its initial advocate in the late 1960s it had unfortunately been bastardized in several big government projects that went puff! (just as the autonomous regional experience is going puff!) due to wrongful implementation, which in turn was due to a misunderstanding of what area, development is basically about.

With Secretary Gina at the helm of a major government department that has a direct and meaningful role in national development, the area development paradigm is set to take off and this time under the leadership of a capable and knowledgeable environment and natural resources secretary. For one, Secretary Gina has been a practitioner of area development approaching the various undertakings of the ABS-CBN Foundation in Palawan and other provinces wherein the local people were the implementers and the beneficiaries of the eco-tourism projects that simply highlighted the potential of their area (thus the term area development).

Secretary Gina knows that with the Philippines’ archipelagic territory, the mountain ridge ecosystem connects by streams, creeks, rivers to the various other ecosystems until the final one (within our territory), the coral reef ecosystem, the totality of which was once teeming with life. “Life in all its fullness” was certainly what the Philippines was (before the times of colonization and industrialization. But alas, development was under the unitary and sectoral paradigm).

Area development deepens this understanding of the fragile but critical relationships between and among interconnected ecosystems and working with the local people applies the principle of subsidiarity which states that functions and decision-making should be undertaken at the lowest possible hierarchical level and the role of the higher organizational level is to support those lower units undertaking the functions.

As Secretary Gina says, “area development is about nurturing and helping the local people nurture their local areas to unleash [their]productive potential”. This means making development based on the potentialities of the area. This is the better opposite to what has been going on since the Philippines became a country under colonial masters where the desires of the corporations were simply imposed on local areas that suited their businesses. And since business was all that mattered, they generally left the place worse off and, in many instances killing off the ecosystem that the locals could have relied on for sustenance. The zenith of this “devil may care” attitude seems to be the guiding principle of many large mines that decimate the geological and hydrological functions of the ecosystem leaving the locals in perpetual risk and scamming the Filipino people by leaving behind a permanent pit hole of humongous dimensions. It wouldn’t be surprising if the economic tab left behind by derelict mines long abandoned by mining companies that have been in turn abandoned by their shareholders are simply dumped on you and me, the taxpayers. Secretary Gina calls this “madness”.

Under the principle of subsidiarity, it is government’s role to assist local people co-create local sustainable economies based on the perpetual beneficial use of the local ecosystem bounties for even distant future generations. Thus, the shift towards federalism is timely in that area development and subsidiarity are wholly compatible with federalism. In fact, they are necessary complements to genuine federalism. Where unitarism (our present centralized system) brought us corporate-led sectoral and highly inequitable development, federalism should usher in community-based, ecosystem-sensitive area development that gives everyone who wants a chance to participate in the local economy that opportunity.

Thus, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is leading the way by selecting 29 priority areas to demonstrate area development and is enlisting the help of the Sixto K. Roxas Foundation that targets poverty eradication by creating the template of an expanded local social accounting matrix of the value-adding power of the local sectors and how incomes are distributed (or not distributed locally but remitted out of the local area). Secretary Gina wants all programs of the DENR like the National Greening Program, Bamboo Program, Biochar Program, Mangrove Rehabilitation Programs, and Mining Programs to be re-crafted along the principles of area development with its concrete manifestation of viable community enterprises that are networked to build up to scale and demonstrate the opposite of “trickle-down” (pinatulo) towards the alternative of “nurturing upwards,” or pinatubo.

President Duterte seems to be instinctively aware that the ideological lines are not anymore between the “left vs. the right,” the old Cold War mentality of these old ideologies (that ironically are united in their pinatulo paradigm as both ideologies rely on trickle-down sectors to benefit the locals) but between the primacy of nurturing people and ecosystems versus sectoral corporations (that have grown so large, moneyed and powerful), or in other words “pinatulo” vs. “pinatubo”. Thus, the push for federalism as a government organizational set-up where now, finally, area development can be its favored bride guided by the vow of subsidiarity.

* * *

The author, a co-convenor of the Subsidiarity Movement International and the Federalist Forum of the Philippines, advocates for the bottom-up development model as well as proper decentralization, and the strengthening of regional governance. He served for 12 years in the Regional Development Council of Central Luzon as chair of the economic committee. He was a consultant for the Philippine Alternative Fuels Corp. (PAFC) and was on the board of trustees of the HARIBON Foundation. He is currently a member of the board of advisors of CDPI.

Published in Commentaries