MANILA--In the last State of the Nation Address (Sona) of her administration, President Gloria Arroyo on Monday made a final appeal to local lawmakers to urgently pass a law to establish a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
"Let's have a department of ICT," Arroyo said in her annual televised speech delivered to convened members of Congress.
It marked the first time the Philippine president, who currently has less than a year in office after coming to power in 2001, included the DICT agenda in her Sona.
A proposed law calling for the establishment of DICT has been pending in the national legislature for the past five years, despite the Arroyo administration having certified the bill as urgent.
Members of Congress who oppose the DICT bill said it would create additional bureaucracy that would further strain the country's limited budget.
However, the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), the government's coordinating body for ICT-related initiatives, said the DICT would not need any additional funding since it would be a single aggregator for all IT and communications government agencies.
Aside from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the Telecommunications Office (Telof) which are now under the CICT, the DICT is expected to integrate other agencies from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
In an earlier interview, the CICT chief Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua said although there is limited time left before the current administration takes its exit, the Arroyo government is still hoping that legislators would approve the DICT bill.
Roxas-Chua said it is imperative the country establishes a full-fledged ICT department. "The problem with the CICT just being a commission, is that it can be easily demolished by the next administration," he said. "All that is needed by the next president is to sign another executive order and that would be the end of the programs we've put up over the years."
In her speech, Arroyo stressed the crucial role of the DICT, underscoring the growing significance of the local BPO (business process outsourcing) sector as an "engine of growth" for the Philippine economy. "Electronics and other manufactured exports rise and fall in accordance with the state of the world economy, but BPO remains resilient," she said. "With earnings of US$6 billion and employment of 600,000, the BPO phenomenon speaks eloquently of our competitiveness and productivity."
In her DICT plea, Arroyo also highlighted her administration's desire to push through with the automated elections for 2010. "In 2001, I said we would finance fully automated elections. We got it, thanks to Congress," she said.
Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.