By Keith Detros Programme Lead, Tech For Good Institute
In the first article, the World Development Report (WDR)’s framework on an Integrated National Data System (INDS) served as a good starting point for discussion of the Philippine’s own data ecosystem. While there is no denying that the establishment of the INDS in the country will take time, there are key policy measures that should be first tackled and fast-tracked. These are policies and initiatives that have either already been started or draft versions of the bill have already been proposed in the legislature. Thus, prioritising the following initiatives will help foster a vibrant data ecosystem in the Philippines.
- Reliable and accurate implementation of the Philippine National ID System
A backbone of a well-functioning data system is a robust data registry. The Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) was launched in 2018 with the aim of improved delivery of government service, reducing red tape, promoting ease of doing business, and enhancing financial inclusion. While COVID-19 has slowed down the rollout of PhilSys in the past two years, the Philippine Statistics Authority ramped up registrations in the first half of 2023. As of May 2023, the country has completed 78.5 million registrations, which accounts for around 85% of the target 92 million registrations.
However, encoding errors and duplication issues plague the national ID database. To address the problems, the PSA noted that they will be conducting a massive updating exercise to correct erroneous data. In order to maximise the potential of having a national data registry, accuracy and reliability of data needs to be ensured in the full implementation of the PhilSys.
- Pass the Proposed Open Access in Data Transmission
The overall data ecosystem also relies on digital infrastructure and connectivity to initiate data flows. From the government side, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) implements the National Broadband Plan, which is the government’s blueprint to create a connectivity backbone infrastructure by deploying fiber optic cables and wireless technologies. The aim is to deliver reliable, affordable, and secure internet especially to rural communities. As of 2022, the Phase 1 of the National Broadband Plan is 78% complete and was able to activate nodes in 12 provinces in the country.
In addition to the National Broadband Plan, the government should also consider fostering competition among internet service providers. This is to invite investments from the private sector and promote innovation. The Open Access and Data Transmission Bill, which is a pending legislation, seeks to liberalise the internet industry. The bill aims to lower market entry barriers, provide guidance for infrastructure sharing, lower the cost of deploying broadband infrastructure, and make more spectrum more available to market players. It essentially repeals the outdated policy which restricts deployment networks only to telephone operators. Several business groups and civil society organisations have called for the bill to be certified as a priority legislation.
- Certify the Cybersecurity Law as urgent
Data protection and cybersecurity, both key components in a national data system, are backed by landmark legislation in the country. In 2012, the Data Privacy Act was signed into law, effectively creating the National Privacy Commission. It formalised the duty of the state to uphold the right to privacy and clearly laid down the rights of data subjects. In the same year, the Cybercrime Prevention Act was also legislated and contained penal provisions for any unauthorised use and access of data of the Filipinos.
The country however still does not have a comprehensive cybersecurity law that sets the minimum cybersecurity standards for government agencies and critical infrastructure. Currently, the country operates on the National Cybersecurity Plan 2022 as led by the DICT and key executive department circulars which provides for the protection of critical information infrastructure in government. A cybersecurity law would institutionalise minimum standards and would also give due funding priorities to cybersecurity capacity building.
In conclusion to this two-part series, the Philippine government is well-placed to promote an integrated data system given that its national statistical office performs well in capacity, openness, and coverage. With the recent World Development Report offering a useful framework and starting point for the Philippines to craft its own National Data Strategy, getting the fundamentals right and fast tracking key policies are vital. However the above cannot be achieved by the government alone. The private sector, business leaders and citizens too, play a role in realising a trusted, integrated and interoperable data ecosystem.