On 15 February 2023, the Tech for Good Institute and Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Rizalino S. Navarro Policy Center for Competitiveness conducted a roundtable discussion with leaders in the Philippine tech ecosystem to discuss how technology and the digital economy may support the Philippine’s growth and development.
Seventeen (17) participants from the public, private and civil spheres shared their perspectives on what “tech for good” meant to them and their respective organisations and provided action-oriented recommendations to advance it for the country.
The Roundtable surfaced key themes of inclusion through connectivity, digital literacy and capacity building. As participation grows and deepens, building trust in the digital economy and ecosystem are imperative if growth is to be sustained. This can be achieved through evidence-driven, consultative policymaking that takes a holistic and responsive approach to driving innovation and inclusive growth.
Quality connectivity for all segments of the population throughout the country is critical to advancing inclusive growth
- A thriving digital economy means digital transformation from Batanes to Tawi-Taw (island provinces in the Philippines).
- In order to fully maximise the benefits of the digital economy, the Philippines needs a globally-competitive connectivity infrastructure. There is a great demand for efficient and equitable digital access and connectivity, where users, particularly the poor and marginalised, have access to adequate internet connection even in distant regions i.e. throughout the 7,000+ islands of the archipelago.
- Quality connectivity will allow digital equity as geographically-isolated and disadvantaged areas are able to access digital products and services.
Meaningful and productive participation in the digital economy requires digital literacy and capacity building
- To ensure positive and productive participation in the digital economy amongst the Filipino population, efforts must go into enhancing digital literacy. In particular, users should be able to leverage digital tools effectively, be responsible users of technology, and protect themselves from online harms. The awareness of the public’s legal rights in the digital economy should also be raised.
- To develop digital talent in the country, a collaborative reskilling and upskilling initiative between the government, DECs, academic institutions, and the civil society is needed. Government can spearhead a national ICT skills roadmap to guide investment and efforts.
- Capacity-building and skills training must be extended to provincial communities. Digital inclusion should be an integral part of the country’s digital transformation plans. DECs should also consider this as they develop new products and services. One participant highlighted the importance of including the gender lens in the digital economy. The same principle should apply to other vulnerable groups such as the youth, elderly, and persons with disabilities.
The digital ecosystem must protect users and respect their rights to earn trust
- An effective approach to foster trust in the ecosystem is to have verified digital identities for every citizen. The government’s efforts to roll-out the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) must therefore be prioritised.
- The government should also consider collaborating with DECs to drive further innovation of trust-enabling technologies that can better meet the needs of the ecosystem (e.g. digital signatures for e-commerce transactions, verification tools for official digital documents etc.). The Department of Trade and Industry can consider issuing accreditation for providers of such solutions to encourage wider adoption.
- Due consideration must be given to ensure privacy rights for users when promoting digital adoption across key sectors such as e-commerce and digital financial services. To further foster trust, DECs in these sectors should be reasonably transparent in their treatment of data collected from consumers and provide effective guardrails to further protect consumers from unintended consequences. Responsive feedback mechanisms, particularly around addressing consumer complaints, can also contribute towards a more trusted digital experience for consumers.
Policymaking should be informed by evidence-based research and industry consultations
- Evidence-based research is important to inform policy development and regulations to advance national priorities. Research by universities can offer new ways to frame issues and catalyse new ideas to advance the country’s digital transformation agenda forward. Academics and researchers should be included in policy development efforts. DECs can also support academics’ research efforts in the field by providing technical assistance and sharing relevant data.
- Open lines of communication and close collaboration between the public, private, and people sectors are essential to address concerns and to unlock growth opportunities. For example, consultations between these stakeholder groups should be built into the process of crafting new rules and regulations. These consultations will enable a holistic view on policy impact and a better understanding of tradeoffs, as well as evaluating the practicality of implementation. Ready opportunities for such collaborations are in the advancement of the following high priority bills that relate to the digital economy:
- E-Governance Bill and the Internet Transactions Act;
- Spectrum Management Bill (allocation and management of radio frequency spectrum);
- Open Access Bill;
- Modernisation Bill for the National Telecommunications Commission; and
- the Social Impact Bill.
A responsive, multi-stakeholder support is needed to drive innovation
- To further growth for the Philippines, policymakers should take proactive steps to enable the development of tech startups and companies with operations in the Philippines. In particular, those with the potential for wider impact to the Filipino population can be encouraged through incentives such as grants and subsidies, to steer innovation towards solving the country’s most urgent challenges.
- To keep pace with innovation, sandboxes would allow emerging tech solutions and tech-enabled business models to be piloted in a controlled environment within a reasonable testing time frame. Regulators can better manage risk and companies can learn from the sandbox phase to enable smoother implementation to the wider market.
- Innovation can also be promoted by protecting intellectual property (IP) rights. Representatives from the government encouraged DECs – the startups in particular – to file more IP. While the promotion of IP fillings can be advanced through campaigns, rewards and related incentives, a national IP strategy can support further digital innovation in the Philippines.
- Academic institutions can play a greater role in driving innovation. Schools and universities should expand their work with the public and private sectors to develop related assessment frameworks for new technologies.
- Imposing stringent government measures, especially ex-ante regulations (i.e. based on forecasts vs actual) could potentially stifle innovation and progress. A responsive regulatory environment is key to ensure that technology would deliver its promised impact, while DECs can also propose industry self-regulation in close consultation with regulators.
To read the national-level priorities of the Philippines, please click on the link here.
This study is made possible with the support of the AsiaTechX (ATX) Programme Office, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Singapore. A consolidated report of the six roundtables will be launched at ATXSG 2023. Register now for your complimentary pass!