The local ICT industry was stunned at the end of last month when Pres. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III issued Executive Order (EO) 47, which downgraded the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) into a mere attached unit of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
The EO, which was actually signed on Jun. 23 by Aquino, was released on the last day of what has been celebrated in the past years as National ICT month. To add insult to injury, the abolition order came just a few days after Aquino appointed Oliver Chato as commissioner of the CICT. Chato thus has the unenviable distinction of having the shortest lived tenure as presidential appointee--about seven days.
Under the presidential directive, the ICT authority will now be "transferred and renamed" as ICTO (Information and Communications Technology Office) under the DOST. Unlike the CICT which was headed by a Cabinet-level chair, the ICTO will be led by an executive director with the rank of an undersecretary. As expected, the EO stirred a hornet's nest. The country's major BPO organizations came up with a joint statement deploring the issuance of the order. In particular, the trade groups criticized the lack of consultation with local stakeholders before the EO's release.
Local ICT councils, on the other hand, also voiced their opposition by pointing out that Pres. Aquino failed to recognize the role of the ICT agency as an effective catalyst for coordination among various departments of the government. The National ICT Councils of the Philippines (NICP), meanwhile, drafted a 10-point document which lists down the reasons why the EO is defective.
The local stakeholders were so strongly against the EO that in one meeting arranged by NICP president Jocelle Batapa Sigue, a consensus was reached that a private sector-led "CICT", which stands for Convergence for ICT, will be formed.
The NICP has also initiated an online petition for Aquino to recall the EO. However, some sectors who are also opposed to the EO believe that it's better to focus on pressing the government to pass the bill on DICT (Department of ICT) instead of urging Aquino to revoke the EO, which is unlikely to happen anyway.
Honestly, I was not surprised that Aquino issued the controversial EO--it was long time coming. The guy, along with his best buddy Manuel "Marâ" Roxas II, who's now the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DICT), have no love lost for the CICT or even the proposed DICT. Remember that in last year's national election, Aquino categorically stated his opposition to the DICT.
Under the current administration, the DOST has grown in stature while the CICT slowly slipped in oblivion. Again, this is not at all surprising since the DOST secretary, Mario Montejo, is the brother-in-law of Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa, the so-called "little president" and the most powerful member of the Cabinet. Well, if Montejo has extraordinary access to the president, then this might be good for the ICTO and consequently for the ICT sector.
In my discussions with fellow IT journalists, I have argued that scuttling the CICT could be a good move since it's a temporary body that had no actual quasi-judicial powers. This came to mind because about five years ago, I remember former CICT chair Virgilio "Verâ" Pena saying that the NTC (National Telecommunications Commission), which was then under the CICT, was even more powerful than its mother agency. But, after hearing all the arguments against the dissolution of the CICT, I now come to the conclusion that the agency is indeed worth keeping. Its success and power laid on its ability not to hog the limelight but to play a supporting role to the industry.