Last Tuesday, I found myself in the Senate to witness the fate of two ICT-related measures--the bill creating the Department of ICT (DICT) and the proposed cybercrime law--just a couple of days before the chamber formally adjourned for the elections.
It has been a long time since I last set foot on that building along Manila Bay. Somehow I felt excited to be back there after perhaps nine or ten years.
My fellow journalist, Tom Noda of Computerworld Philippines, and I had an easy time reaching the place and we entered the session hall without hassle. We quickly spotted Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua, who was seated on the left side of the gallery waiting to give a hand to any senator who would care to sponsor or ask about the pending ICT bills.
Roxas-Chua had been at the chamber for one-and-a-half weeks to lobby for the passage of the bills, and he was hoping against hope that the legislature would give its nod. The CICT chief may have been losing sleep thinking of it because I saw him getting drowsy during the lengthy hearing.
As we took our seats in the audience, Senator Richard Gordon took the floor and discussed a report by the Congressional Commission on Science and Technology and Engineering (Comste). Since Gordon and Comste chair, Senator Edgardo Angara, were present at the session, I initially thought that the ICT bills had a good fighting chance to be approved on that day.
It was wishful thinking, as I discovered a few minutes later.
After Gordon wrapped up his S&T piece, a couple of senators tackled some local concerns before the presiding officer called for a short recess. After some of the lawmakers went out of the room, a restrained commotion pierced the atmosphere as beleaguered Senator Manny Villar entered the session hall.
It was the first time in a long while that Villar, one of the leading presidential contenders, reported for work. He wasn't attending the sessions because a bloc at the chamber, led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, had earlier prepared a committee report censuring him for his alleged role in the overpricing of a major road project.
After a brief huddle with his allies, Villar stood behind the rostrum and delivered a kilometric speech denying his part in the controversy and refuting he was a "coward" for not facing his accusers at the Senate. Amazingly, majority of the "honorable" senators came streaming back and were almost in full attendance as Villar held court.
As cameras clicked and television lenses zoomed in on Villar, I knew right then that the bills had met its inevitable death. After about 40 minutes, and with Villar still on the limelight, we stood up and quietly made our way out, passing by Roxas-Chua to say our goodbyes.
I don't know if he was naïve or what, but the CICT chair was overly idealistic in expecting that the bills would still be passed on the penultimate day of the Senate sessions. Not that I blame him for his desire to have the proposed laws approved, but the probability of that happening was close to nil.
He, however, conceded later in the afternoon via his Facebook status update: "I was informed no more bills will be taken up on the last session day of the Senate. It appears our journey has come to an end. Thanks to all those who supported us along the way. I guess it's up to the next administration to pass our ICT bills."
With no DICT (and cybercrime law) for now, the country has no other option but to stick it out with the CICT. The agency, however, is also in a precarious situation as the next president may abolish it altogether with the mere issuance of another executive order.
True, the aborted bills can be filed again in the next session of Congress, but as former University of the Philippines computer science professor Jaime Caro said in a Facebook update, the chances of this happening is very slim especially with Senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas II leading the race for vice president.
"The next DICT bill would have a tougher chance if Mar becomes vice president and a trusted advisor of the next president. Plus, Mar opposes the creation of CICT, so that could be its end," said Caro, a former PSITE (Philippine Society of IT Educators) president.
On the other hand, why don't we just abolish the Senate instead?
Industry Update Former TV reporter Cathy Ileto will assume next week her new job with communications team of IBM Philippines. Prior to this, Ileto was the external relations director of Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) and country director for an environment-focused BPO firm.
Another top executive of BPAP, Jonathan de Luzuriaga, has also left the outsourcing group to take up a new post with ICT research and consultancy firm Tholons.
On the regional scene, veteran communications guy Jason Coates has suited up with chipmaker AMD. The American executive had stints with Yahoo Southeast Asia, and credit card company Visa.