If not for the widely publicized hostage-taking incident involving Hong Kong tourists here last August, the Philippines would have been in celebratory mood for achieving a "scintillating" 7.9 percent growth in the second quarter of 2010, from just 1.2 percent last year.
The botched operation to rescue the foreign tourists was the only major blot in an otherwise impressive and promising start of the new administration under President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III. In fact, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) trading index hit an all-time high last Sept. 13.
The overall optimism on the economy has logically stirred more activities in the local technology industry, particularly in the thriving BPO (business process outsourcing) sector. In the last five or six weeks, I received invites for the opening or expansion of about six foreign-owned call centers in the country. That's an average of one call center for every week.
Also, the Congress in this new administration appears to be more supportive of the government's IT agenda. Unlike previous legislators who only gave lip service on vital IT bills, the guys overseeing the technology committees seem genuinely concern about ICT-related proposed laws.
I've been in Congress three times in the last month alone to follow up some IT stories with lawmakers--quite an amazing feat for me since I've only been in the House of Representatives only once before.
Taguig representative Freddie Tinga, the new chair of the ICT committee, Bayan Muna party-list Teddy Casino, the author of the FOSS (free and open source software) bill, and AGHAM (science) party-list representative Angelo Palmones are all pushing the IT agenda quite smoothly.
Among the pending IT legislations, Tinga said his committee will prioritize the data privacy bill, which the multi-billion dollar BPO industry needs very badly. I hope he makes good on his promise so the bill will have a real chance of being approved by the lawmaking body in plenary.
While most things look rosy for the industry, I'm not optimistic about the new secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Mario Montejo. I haven't met the guy although I did try to catch him in two press conferences in which he didn't show up.
First of all, I do think that something was not quite right with Montejo's appointment since he reportedly got the post primarily because he is a brother-in-law of Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa. This information was not disclosed until a television station asked Ochoa about his relation to Montejo.
While I do not question Aquino's prerogative, Montejo's selection was rather surprising since the new science chief is a virtual outsider of the DOST and the academe where most, if not all, of the previous secretaries came from. Not that it's a requirement, but Montejo also doesn't have a PhD degree unlike his predecessors. His biggest achievement, as described by local media, is the "robotic parking system" which he designed as an inventor.
Recently, Montejo's pronouncement in Congress about his plan to build a prototype monorail inside the University of the Philippines almost made me fall off my chair. I thought: Is he serious? Where would he get the funding and the technology for this impractical project?
Since taking the science portfolio, Montejo has also made some intriguing personnel replacements at the DOST. The firing of weather bureau chief Prisco Nilo was the most controversial one, although the order can be attributed directly to Aquino.
During the recent anniversary-cum-fundraising celebration of the Philippine Science High School, an absent Montejo sent his wife instead of asking an undersecretary to speak on his behalf.
But despite these misgivings, I'm still willing to give Montejo a chance to prove me wrong. After all, he's part of the team of an administration that is riding on a new wave of enthusiasm and support.