To sustain its momentum in its digital transformation, the Philippines is set to partner with another Asian economy to drive growth in its technology and banking sectors. Department of Finance (DoF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III announced in a statement that he has been in talks with Indian Ambassador to the Philippines, Shambhu Kumaran, to strengthen the two countries’ economic ties in improving digital technology and developing infrastructure.
Speaking through a virtual courtesy call, the two officials were one in saying that both countries are “poised to bounce back” from the economic impact of the pandemic. They also agreed that the benefits of strengthening the two nations’ economic cooperation are many.
The ambassador expressed India’s interest to solidify its existing cooperation with the Philippines, particularly in the field of banking and finance. This is in line with goals earlier set by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte of attaining financial inclusivity for Filipinos. To do this, he explained that India can assist the Philippines in setting up and improving its national broadband network. India is also intent on providing tech assistance to the Philippines once the latter rolls out its national ID system.
The Finance Secretary showed interest in the planned cooperation with India and encouraged Indian businesses to invest under a cyber defence framework designed to streamline operations of state-run banks and other subsidiaries in the Philippines.
The Secretary also showed appreciation for India’s offer of assistance in accelerating the Philippines’ digital transformation. He added that with these services, the Philippine government will be better equipped in fostering financial inclusion, in upgrading delivery of frontline public service and in putting a stop to corruption.
The tech assistance services offered by the Indian government will be in line with the Philippines’ initiative to boost its broadband services. As previously reported by OpenGov Asia, a big chunk of the Philippines’ budget for 2021 has been allotted for the development of the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) National Broadband Programme (NBP).
Of the PHP 4.5 trillion (US$ 93.7 billion) national budget this year, the funding for the NBP was recorded to be at PHP 1.9 billion (US$ 39.5 million). This was a significant increase from the initial PHP 903.19 million (US$ 18.8 million) budget allocation for the NBP.
Investments in infrastructure
The Ambassador likewise said that more Indian firms are looking at investing in the Philippines and taking part in the government’s “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) programme. However, he was quick to add that these potential investors still need more information regarding possible business ventures that are available to them under this infrastructure modernisation plan.
To address this issue, the Finance Secretary and the Ambassador agreed to launch a webinar or a virtual workshop. Through this platform, the Philippine government will be able to lay down investment opportunities available to Indian companies.
To point out some of the key opportunities for investment in the Philippines, the DoF said that an Indian firm is already in partnership with the government under the Build, Build, Build Programme for the Mactan Cebu International Airport and in the Clark International Airport (CIA) projects.
The BBB programme aims to address the infrastructure backlog in the Philippines by improving public infrastructure spending from 2.9% of the gross domestic product (GDP) to 7.3%. The government is estimating costs in implementing this framework to be at around PHP 8 trillion to PHP 9 trillion (US$ 166 billion to US$ 187.4 billion) from 2016 to 2022. Projects under this programme include Phase 1 of the CIA expansion and the New Clark City Food Processing Terminal and International Food Market
As government agencies continue to wade through the ‘new normal’ in delivering public service amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many projects have been launched in line with initiatives to accelerate towards digital transformation. The Department of Education (DepEd) announced in a statement that it has recently held the online launch of DepEd Teaches, a new programme that will streamline operations in the department.
Under this programme, a series of episodes tackling various issues in the education sector and distance learning procedures shall be uploaded to the DepEd’s Facebook page. The first topics to be discussed at length are learning delivery modes and classroom assessment techniques. Access to learning resources shall also be tackled. Succeeding episodes of the DepEd series shall be available starting January 2021.
Strengthening distance learning techniques
The new online platform is designed to assist and inform teachers and school managers about best practices in distance learning. The department explained that this programme will also address challenges related to teaching and learning during the new normal.
One of these issues is misinformation and queries regarding curriculum and teaching instructions. Assessment concerns are also one of the challenges that DepEd Teaches aims to address.
DepEd’s Assistant Secretary for Curriculum and Instruction Alma Ruby Torio clarified in the same media release that government officials are expected to contribute to the sharing of best practices in a bid to improve existing education services. These officials include bureau chiefs, regional directors and division superintendents of schools.
The Assistant Secretary added that this initiative will help fill in information gaps during the pandemic. She explained: “As we live in the digital age, we need to rely on valid information every hour of every day, thus the need to invest to upgrade our skills.”
A School Division Superintendent of Ilocos Sur expressed the same sentiment, stating that empowering teachers is key to improving education, as these mentors will be “more inspired to work hard for the sake of learners, for the future.”
Education Secretary Leonor Briones recently said that the delivery of education services during the pandemic to over 25 million students under the department’s stead is a challenge that calls for the implementation of innovative distance learning techniques. To be able to deliver education while ensuring the health and safety of students and teachers, the DepEd rolled out its Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan or the BE-LCP.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) approved the implementation of the BE-LCP last year. Under this framework, the DepEd undertook to adopt alternative learning delivery options including blending learning and homeschooling in a bid to comply with minimum health and safety standards. Physical or face-to-face activities like science fairs and school sports events were ordered cancelled except those events that were to be held online.
During the department’s virtual Thanksgiving and General Assembly, the DepEd Secretary highlighted the need to transform education in the country in response to what she referred to as a “changing world”.
She added: “ [T]he change has already started. We already recognise the signals, we see the increased role of technology and science. We see the need to encourage not only our teachers but our learners to not only specialise and memorise; but to know how to analyse and come up with a solution.”
The DepEd joins a host of government agencies that have shifted to digitalisation to boost operations. As earlier cited in a report by OpenGov Asia, one of these agencies is the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The state pension fund announced that it is re-establishing its Annual Pensioners Information Revalidation (APIR) programme and implementing it through online channels. Under this system, pensioners can update their personal information and revalidate these data via virtual means.
The Philippine government is greeting the new year on a high note with a new addition to the roster of innovative projects it is implementing as part of its digital transformation. According to a statement, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) announced that it has launched a new website that will allow business owners in the provinces of Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan (MIMAROPA) to showcase their products and services to the public.
The department added that with the launch of the new site, island-based enterprises in the region will be able to make their products known without the need to travel. The website, called Mimaropa Ventures PH, will feature community-based businesses that the DOST has supported through funding and technology-sharing.
Visitors of the website must initially complete registration. After registering, they will then be able to browse through contact details of manufacturers and business owners.
Those who are on the lookout for personal items can leaf through the website’s catalogue of products and services. The public can also visit the site for online trading purposes. The DOST explained that the site will introduce food items like biscuits and rice cakes. These products shall be categorised according to provinces and can be easily perused through drop-down selections.
Mimaropa Ventures PH was first introduced to the public through a Virtual Exhibit that is currently being hosted by DOST Mimaropa until January 2021. The site was part of a string of undertakings that the department has rolled out as it celebrated its National Science and Technology Week.
Aside from showcasing the new Mimaropa site, the online exhibit features some of the technologies and programs that the DOST has lined up for small businesses as it continues to improve its services through digitalisation. A 3D tour of digital booths informs visitors of scholarships that the department provides. The tour also unveils various projects like the DOST-Up programme which aims to support entrepreneurs. The online tour likewise provides insights on various products and services of the DOST like the Nutribun and Tubig Talino programmes.
Like most government agencies, the DOST is intent on streamlining existing operations amid restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, it implemented its Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program or SETUP. This undertaking provides a nationwide blueprint that can help the government address the needs of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
The SETUP project aims to assist these small enterprises as they navigate their way through a new era characterised by low demands for products in the local market. The department does this by introducing technological innovations to MSMEs that they can adopt to improve their products and services and in the long-term, increase their business productivity. Some of the priority sectors of the programme include the food processing, furniture, agriculture and metals and engineering industries.
The purpose of SETUP is to provide human resource training, assist in the establishment of product standards, introduce database management systems and provide help in terms of technology acquisition and infusion of appropriate innovative frameworks to improve current operations of enterprises.
Aside from MSMEs, many sectors in the economy are reaping the benefits of government-led initiatives toward digitalisation. One of these industries is manufacturing.
In a recent report by OpenGov Asia, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said that the manufacturing sector stands to benefit from the adoption of ‘smarter’ technology. Key stakeholders during a virtual Summit explained that the government should be at the fore of cultivating an environment of innovation among businesses. Government agencies must ensure that there is a conducive policy environment as well as open collaboration between the public and private sectors in order to promote investment and spark growth in the manufacturing sector.
State pension fund Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) is the latest agency to join the initiative in contributing to the country’s digital transformation and e-governance framework.
In a media release, Rolando Ledesma Macasaet, President and General Manager of the GSIS, urged pensioners to try a new online option in updating their personal information and complying with the yearly report mandated by the agency.
The GSIS President explained that the agency will be integrating its Annual Pensioners Information Revalidation (APIR) programme in various online channels.
Pensioners, both age-old and survivorship, must first book an online interview via text or by sending an email to their GSIS handling branch or unit as posted on the GSIS website. They will then receive confirmation of their interview through Viber, Facebook Messenger, Skype or Zoom.
This statement comes after the GSIS unveiled plans to resume its APIR programme in 2021. Under the programme, all pensioners are required to appear personally at GSIS offices during their birth months in order to continue receiving their pensions.
The APIR system is one of the state pension fund’s monitoring schemes launched to prevent any overpayment of pensions. This system was taken down by the GSIS early this year. However, it was re-established and integrated with online platforms to address health and safety concerns during the pandemic. The GSIS President emphasised that the new “contactless method” will help in securing the safety of pensioners while also ensuring that they receive their pensions on time.
The GSIS President added that they are still on the lookout for innovative ways “to harness technology [and] make transacting with GSIS convenient and safe for members and pensioners.”
The Online APIR is one of several methods for reporting and revalidating personal information. Pensioners may opt to complete their transactions through the GSIS Wireless Automated Processing System (GWAPS). They may also transact with GSIS by personal appearance, as well as through home or hospital visits from GSIS personnel.
For pensioners who choose to book an interview through email, they need to send via email copies of their Unified Multi-Purpose IDs (UMID). However, for surviving spouses of pensioners, they have to fill up a downloadable form stating that they have not yet remarried. PWDs or pensioners with permanent disabilities must include an original copy of their medical progress report in their email.
The Online APIR shall likewise benefit pensioners who are currently residing abroad. These pensioners may request or schedule their interview through email.
Personal interviews may be undertaken by visiting GSIS kiosks during the pensioner’s birth month. These kiosks are located in selected malls in the Philippines as well as in major government offices.
For pensioners who would opt to personally appear in GSIS to comply with the APIR report, they may proceed to any GSIS branch office or service desk during their birth month. They must likewise present their UMID card or two valid government-issued IDs.
The GSIS was quick to issue a reminder to old and weak pensioners to take necessary precautions in utilising non-online methods to report to the state pension fund amid the pandemic. Pensioners who are bedridden or confined in a hospital or penal institution shall be visited and interviewed by GSIS employees to be able to comply with the APIR requirement.
Aside from the GSIS, many government agencies have taken the lead in spurring economic stability through the adoption of innovative projects and operational frameworks. In the education sector, a contactless disbursement scheme for allowances to scholars is set to be utilised. According to a recent report by OpenGov Asia, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) announced that it has formed a partnership with an e-wallet service provider to send school funds to its scholars.
As most global economies continue to reel from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines chooses to play a different ball game by accelerating growth through the adoption of digital technology.
To further streamline the government’s digital transformation, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) called on key industry players to boost the Philippines’ manufacturing sector by making processes “smarter”.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez emphasised the role of innovation as an enabler of economic change and sustained competitiveness in various sectors. His advice is to keep the ball rolling by being resilient and by keeping an innovative mindset. He added: “We need to stay the course to sustain the resurgence of local manufacturing, which should involve the digital transformation of our industries. To be resilient, Philippine manufacturing must evolve – faster, better, and smarter.”
The trade and industry department made this statement during the virtual Manufacturing Summit 2020, an annual event where stakeholders from the public and private sectors gather to discuss the performance of the country’s manufacturing sector and to put forward possible solutions to improve the industry.
Aside from supporting the adoption of innovation among enterprises, participants during the Summit raised their points on government policies that can ramp up the economy and urged manufacturing enterprises to employ new business models.
Innovation in an enabling policy environment
Throughout the virtual event, several themes were laid on the table for discussion. With regard to innovation, speakers highlighted the major role that the government plays in fostering an environment of innovation among businesses. Government organisations must step up in ensuring a conducive policy environment, particularly in the manufacturing sector, to promote investment.
The utilisation of technology should likewise be made alongside the implementation of flexible and adaptive business frameworks. The latter, key speakers noted, is essential for businesses to thrive and be more globally competitive and resilient in the course of the new normal. Participants also emphasised the need to retrain and bank on skills enhancement of their workforce as businesses transition to a digital workplace.
Close collaboration with the government and members of the academe is also key to make enterprises more equipped to handle digital transitions and future disruptions. The Summit was concluded with a strong emphasis on the significance of embracing an Industry 4.0 mindset by strengthening the sustainability of Philippine industries. This can be done through integration into the digital economy and fostering collaboration with global and regional market players.
The DTI also discussed opportunities that Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) may avail of following the approval of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill. The RCEP aims to expand the economic undertakings of the Philippines with trade partners and make the Philippines a manufacturing hub in Asia.
Meanwhile, the Trade Secretary noted that under the CREATE bill, MSMEs shall enjoy a 10% reduction in their corporate income taxes. This is particularly applicable for domestic companies with total assets not exceeding P100 million (US$ 2.1 million).
The positive impact of digital technology is seen in other cornerstone sectors of the economy. Because of this, the Philippine government has been steadily amplifying its digitisation journey in agriculture, healthcare and even in the banking industry. In a recent report by OpenGov Asia, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) announced that it has recorded a boost in investments after it employed a digital finance scheme. The Digital Personal Equity and Retirement Account (PERA) programme aims to boost savings of retired Filipinos living here and abroad. The Central bank said that following the launch of the system in September, it has recorded an increase of almost 50% in the number of investors of Digital PERA. Because of the success of the new system, the BSP said it is considering recommendations to raise the ceiling of PERA investments.
The Philippine government is speeding up the implementation of a passenger automation system that will strengthen immigration procedures in the country on top of other safety restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced that President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Department of Justice to shorten the period required in issuing the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of an Executive Order (E.O.) which provides for the implementation of the Advance Passenger Information (API) system. The recommendation was made by the Justice Secretary during the recently-held Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) meeting.
The President signed and approved E.O. 122 earlier this month. As reported by OpenGov Asia, the API system is an electronic programme that shall serve as an “initial security vetting” of passengers and common carrier personnel. It is anticipated that the new system will expedite immigration processes and the overall inspection of travellers coming to and departing from the Philippines.
Upon adoption, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) shall have the sole authority to receive all data gathered by the API programme. The E.O. shall require captains, masters, agents or owners of vessels or aircrafts arriving or leaving any port within Philippine territory to provide the Bureau with the API of all passengers and crew members. The API shall enable immigration authorities to collect information from machine-readable passports and travel documents provided by commercial carriers.
However, the provisions of E.O. 122 must not be construed to mean that passengers and personnel of commercial carriers shall be exempt from physical inspection at immigration counters.
Upon receipt of the API, immigration authorities shall be required to conduct an extensive verification of API information using its existing database and those related to law enforcement. These data shall be cross-referenced with notices from the International Criminal Police Organisation and information on travel bans issued by the United Nations Security Council.
Under the API programme, the BI shall undertake measures to ensure that information gathered shall be limited to those that are necessary only. The immigration department must also see to it that the structure of these data and their transmission conform to international standards and best practices.
All data gathered shall be stored in the API database for a period not exceeding 12 months from the date of collection. After this period, all information would be destroyed.
Failure to disclose the name of other pertinent information of any passenger or crew member of the carrier shall be grounds for administrative penalties as provided for under Commonwealth Act No. 613 or The Philippine Immigration Act. Crew and non-crew members who intentionally omit to provide APIs shall also be penalised under the Executive Order. Any unauthorised sharing or use of information gathered under the new system shall be fined accordingly under existing criminal and civil service laws.
In enacting the Executive Order, the government aims to enforce stricter border control, with the President emphasising that the upgrade in passenger screening protocols will help “enhance border integrity, manage international traffic flow amidst dramatic growth in passenger numbers and ensure public safety and security.”
The President’s directive to fast-track the implementation of the API programme comes on the heels of a series of recommendations related to safety protocols in light of the pandemic. He has approved the Department of Health’s recommendation for a more stringent 14-day quarantine for travellers in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Another recommendation to improve surveillance protocols and contact tracing in high-risk groups was likewise approved by the President.
The World Bank has formally approved a multi-million dollar financial grant that would spur the digital transformation of the Philippines as the country continues to recover from the pandemic, improve competitiveness, and build resilience against shocks and natural disasters.
The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors unveiled the granting of a US$ 600 million grant called Promoting Competitiveness and Enhancing Resilience to Natural Disasters Development Policy Loan that will be used to adopt a string of digital technologies in the country.
The lender foresees that this undertaking will bring in more investments into the Philippines as new technology fosters improved competition and upscales ease of doing business. The project is intended to provide inclusive recovery by accelerating the development of digital infrastructure under the area of telecommunications. Through this project, the shift to digital transactions and an e-governance framework will be fast-tracked.
The World Bank aims to help the government reduce trade and indemnity costs as it makes the transition to an e-governance framework. Another goal is to assist the Philippine government in cutting back on the costs of doing business. The result, the World Bank explained, is an economic recovery on the back of job creation. The financial grant is also anticipated to help Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to “bounce back” after sustaining a heavy beating during the pandemic.
The funding can also be used to improve the delivery of social assistance to disadvantaged members of the population while enhancing health and safety protocols as the country continues its battle to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Ndiamé Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, The Philippines and Thailand, said: “Reforms to improve digital infrastructure and speed up adoption of digital technologies will not only help the country’s efforts to recover from the impacts of the pandemic but will also boost its export competitiveness that is vital for creating more and better jobs in the future”.
The Country Director added that the World Bank is likewise intent on helping the Philippine government streamline its adoption of a national ID system which it describes as a fundamental reform to enhance existing social programmes and to protect vulnerable groups during natural disasters.
The World Bank loan will further sustain the Philippine government’s momentum as it adopts new technologies to shore up government transactions especially during the pandemic. OpenGov Asia has previously reported that the country is modernising its tourism sector by launching applications that can enhance its safety protocols.
Helping address poverty
In the same statement, the World Bank mentioned that aside from the loan for digital infrastructure, it is also extending a US$300 million Additional Financing for KALAHI-CIDSS National Community Driven Development Project (KC-NCDDP) to help the government alleviate poverty, particularly in rural areas. The funding is to be used in improving community response initiatives and basic social services intended for municipalities deemed most affected by the impacts of the pandemic.
The KC-NCDDP is set to be implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government. Currently, the DSWD has a roster of community projects including the provision of basic facilities like access roads and reliable water systems in local communities which have limited internal revenue allotments and those which are not easily accessible because of geographic isolation.
The Country Director noted, “Community-driven development approaches have shown to be effective in accelerating community reconstruction following disaster events and efficiently putting money for priority needs of communities around the world”.
The World Bank is one of the world’s sources of funding. Aside from the Philippines, the lender has collaborated with several developing countries and is set to grant as much as US$160 billion until June 2021 to more than 100 countries to help support businesses and boost economic activity. It is also allotting US$12 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
The tourism industry is the latest sector to receive a digital upgrade as the Philippines continues to ramp up its services through digital solutions. According to Bernadette Romulo–Puyat, Secretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT), the agency has formally launched a new mobile app in La Union that would allow tourists seeking to visit the province to apply for entry permits online.
The newly-launched application is called the R1 VISITA or the Visitors Information and Travel Assistance programme. Travellers may use the app to register their entry into the region and upload documents including their itinerary, COVID-19 test results, travel authority and bookings in establishments accredited by the department. Once registered, they will be issued individual QR Codes.
Through the R1 VISITA, local authorities will be able to track visitors’ movements across the region. Data gathered will also be used to monitor the influx of tourists who enter the province. According to the DOT, the VISITA app will be operational next year and initial estimates show that the application can accommodate a maximum of 50 registrants per day. Aside from downloading the app, tourists may also register through the Visita 1 website.
The virtual registration system was an undertaking of DOT Region 1. The recent launch marks another attempt by the tourism department to allow seamless entry applications despite restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The Tourism Secretary expressed her enthusiasm over their latest project. She added, “Visitors and tourists in Region 1 would be able to take advantage of this newly-integrated management system that combines La Union’s Napanam contact tracing features with the Visita system”.
The launch was well-attended by tourism officials led by DOT Region 1 Director Joseph Francisco Ortega. It was held at the Plaza De Castiel in the San Juan town of La Union. The DOT Secretary was a guest of honour and a distinguished speaker.
La Union is not the first to benefit from the R1 VISITA. Earlier this year, the Tourism Department announced that it will roll out the VISITA platform to a number of areas in the region including Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. One of these areas is Baguio City, which has seen a significant dent in its tourism industry since the pandemic hit. The virtual platform has paved the way for a more safe and secure mode of re-opening Baguio’s local tourism.
The DOT Secretary added, “Baguio City was the first to use the VISITA app during the launching of the ridge to reef travel corridor last September 22. I hope that more provinces and regions will also integrate their contact tracing processes and monitoring under one app system for travellers’ conveniences”.
She also explained that La Union is the first area in Region 1 to adopt an integrated system for the entry application of travellers.
Aside from launching the app, the tourism department said it had turned over training grants worth PHP 400,000 (US$ 8,322) to professional surfing instructors in San Juan, La Union. Other groups, including the Association of Tour Guides in La Union and the Bangar Loom Weavers Association, were also recipients of financial grants.
The Philippine government has been amplifying its digital transformation across a slew of its agencies. With restrictions in place due to the pandemic, innovative systems have been introduced to track the entry of travellers in all areas of the country. In a report by OpenGov Asia, President Rodrigo Duterte recently gave the green light to introduce the Advance Passenger Information (API) system. The new programme is set to be implemented by common carriers in support of the government’s agenda to exercise intensive border control and immigration procedures.