Former Senator Gregorio “Gringo” B. Honasan II assumed office as the Secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) on July 1, 2019. During his two-year tenure as ICT Chief, Honasan has been steadily working towards the achievement of digital transformation in the country, starting with the provision of better connectivity services for Filipinos.

“Serving as the head of the agency at the forefront of the country’s digital transformation, I am keenly aware of the need to utilize the full potential of the digital economy,” Honasan said.

“Hence, as I reach my two-year mark as ICT Secretary, I reiterate my commitment to create and operationalize efforts to bring Filipinos closer to each other, to communities, to services, to information, and to opportunities through digital technology.”

Under Secretary Honasan’s leadership, the DICT achieved great improvements in the Philippine ICT agenda with the intensified rollout of its programs, projects and initiatives to achieve digital transformation. Among the significant improvements include the following developments:

In July 2021, the country recorded a 741.34% increase in its average fixed broadband Internet speed and a 341.40% in mobile Internet speed from the beginning of President Duterte’s administration in July 2016, according to data from Ookla Speedtest Global Index
DICT’s Free Wi-Fi for All Program achieved a dramatic 500% increase in its rollout rate in 2020. From its previous annual average of 800 sites a year from 2016 to 2019, the DICT activated a total of 4,305 sites in just 2020.
In 2020 alone, the DICT was able to train 183,699 people through its ICT capacity-building initiatives.

Fast-tracked ICT infrastructure roll-out

Secretary Honasan’s digital transformation agenda is founded on intensifying the roll-out of the DICT’s digital connectivity programs. Under his term, the DICT focused its efforts on building the ICT infrastructure needed to support the digitalization of the country’s government, industries, and communities.

The DICT prioritized the intensified deployment of its two flagship programs: the National Broadband Program (NBP) to build a high-speed broadband network for quality, affordable, and widespread connectivity, and the Free Public Internet Access Program, which aims to bridge the digital divide through the establishment of free Internet hotspots in strategic public areas across the country.

The DICT also heeded President Duterte’s call for a more efficient processing of Local Government Unit (LGU) and business permits to fast-track the roll-out of cellular towers. Collaborating with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the DICT regularly monitored the performance of telcos and Internet service providers (ISPs) to ensure their compliance with the President’s directive.

Moreover, the DICT has collaborated with other agencies in streamlining the permitting process for the deployment of cell towers and other ICT infrastructures in line with Section 4 (ii) of Republic Act 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, and the Department’s Common Tower Policy under Department Circular No. 008, s. 2021.

The Department also partnered with the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and various government agencies for the issuance of the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 1, s. 2020. The JMC streamlines the permitting and issuance of necessary clearances for building common towers. A total of 2,680 permits and clearances in 460 cities and municipalities have been approved between the issuance of the JMC and the beginning of 2021.

The DICT also issued DC No. 011, s. 2020, or the Interim Guidelines for the Processing of Applications for Registration as an Independent Tower Company (ITC) for the duration of the public health emergency. These allowed ITCs to register with the DICT despite the imposed social distancing protocols and travel restrictions, allowing the registration of 17 ITCs to date.

These policies shortened the timeline to the target period of 16 days compared to the original 214 days. It also brought down the number of permits needed from 30 to eight, and of documentary requirements from 86 to 35. Since the issuance of the JMC last July 2020, at least 26,636 permits were issued to telcos for tower buildup, almost five times more than the previous rate of issuances.

Improved PH Internet speed

Due to the collective efforts to fast-track ICT infrastructure build-up, the Philippines experienced a steady upward climb in international Internet speed rankings, a strong indicator of the country’s progress in comparison with its Asian neighbors and the larger global community.

As of June 2021, the country’s average download speeds for fixed broadband is now 66.5 megabits per second (Mbps) compared to the 59.73 Mbps speed recorded in May 2021. For mobile Internet, the June 2021 speed reached 32.84 Mbps from the recorded 31.98 Mbps in May, as reported by global monitoring firm Ookla Speedtest.

Comparatively, the recorded speed for fixed broadband back in July 2019 when Honasan first assumed office was 23.60 Mbps for fixed broadband and 15.75 Mbps for mobile. This represents a 148.85 percent increase for fixed broadband, and a 102.98 percent increase in two years since July 2019.

The recent Internet speeds also represent a 741.34 % increase for fixed broadband and a 341.40 % for mobile compared to the country’s respective download speed of 7.91 Mbps and 7.44 Mbps back in July 2016.

The country also claimed the 65th spot out of 180 countries in fixed broadband, while ranking 77th out of 137 countries in mobile for May 2021. Last July 2020, the Philippines ranked 108th for fixed broadband and 114th for mobile.

This ranking placed the country at 17th for fixed broadband and 23rd for mobile among the 50 countries in Asia. In the ASEAN region, the Philippines ranked fifth in both the fixed broadband and mobile categories out of 10 neighboring countries.

Aside from average download speeds, the latest OpenSignal report showed that the Philippines’ 5G services has seen great improvements. The country experienced a 29 percent improvement in 5G vs. 4G video experience, and a 10.4 ratio in 5G vs. 4G download speed.

Enhanced Ease of Doing Business

In addition to improved Internet speeds, the DICT has been fully supporting the Philippine government’s push for digital transformation under Honasan’s leadership.

“DICT is committed to realizing the Philippine government’s aspirations of digital transformation by embedding the pursuit of quality public service, procedural efficiency, and upskilling into the fabric of government operations,” said Honasan.

In the 2020 World Bank–Doing Business Report, the country ranked 95th out of 190 with a score of 62.8, compared to its 2019 ranking of 124th with a score of 57.68, or up by almost 30 notches.

The 2020 World Bank–Doing Business Report contains ratings of an economy’s Ease of Doing Business (EODB) performance based on 10 factors or indicators that represent the life cycle of a business. The Philippines showed the most significant improvements in three indicators: Protecting Minority Investors, Getting Credit, and Dealing with Construction Permits.

Earlier this year, the DICT, Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), and various partner agencies formally launched the Central Business Portal Phase 1, which focused on providing an online, unified business application process. Set to be deployed in phases, the CBP is envisioned to serve as a one-stop-shop for all business-related transactions once completed.

Additionally, the DICT also continues to implement the Electronic Business Permits and Licensing System (eBPLS) and Integrated Business Permits and Licensing System (iBPLS), which streamline the processing and issuance of various business permits, certificates, and licenses.

“The Department fully supports the mandates of the Ease of Doing Business Act of 2018, and is one with ARTA in carrying out its provisions to not only streamline processes, but also to promote transparency and accountability for the continued improvement of government services,” Honasan said.

Intensified Free Wi-Fi for All rollout

Further, during Secretary Honasan’s term, the DICT achieved dramatic improvements in the roll-out of its Free Wi-Fi for All Program in 2020, achieving a rate 500 percent greater than its previous average of 800 sites per year from 2016 to 2019.

Honasan began the mass roll-out of free Internet access points in hospitals in the National Capital Region (NCR) through the revamped Free Wi-Fi for All Program a day after he took his oath of office.

“The president’s marching order for the DICT is to provide connectivity,” Honasan said. “Connect the government to other governments, domestic and global; government to businesses; government to citizens; and everybody to each other. We must do this in a faster, cheaper, if not free, and more secure manner.”

In the 2019 National ICT Household Survey conducted by the DICT in partnership with the Philippine Statistical Research and Training Institute (PSRTI), around half of the communities have telecommunication service in their area, and only small percentage have free public Wi-Fi in their barangays.

To remedy this dearth in digital infrastructure, the DICT’s Free Wi-Fi for All Program recalibrated and enhanced the roll-out strategy of its sites to reach more people in remote regions, including those in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA).

Before the assumption of Honasan, there were 2,692 Free Wi-Fi sites installed from 2016 up to June 30, 2019. As of July 1 this year, there are now 10,311 Free Wi-Fi sites installed in the country.

“By bringing connectivity to the remotest areas in the country, we hope to open up a portal for these communities to participate and thrive in the digital economy, no matter their location,” Honasan said.

Internet connectivity is a valuable resource in far-flung communities and provides residents access to various digital opportunities to improve their quality of life. The provision of free Internet hotspots allows people to engage in the digital economy despite the physical limitations of their locations.

In the educational sector, the program has been instrumental in making learning during the pandemic possible, especially with the shift to online or blended learning.

“The Free Wi-Fi for All program of the DICT helped me with my online classes as a student of Ateneo de Zamboanga University,” said Aisha Abdulajal, a student from Ateneo de Zamboanga University. “It gave me stable access to the internet, which is really hard here in Isabela City. It would be really nice to have more places like this offering Free Internet Access to help more struggling students like me, as well as the general population.”

Aside from the education sector, the program is also useful for government offices and LGUS in their COVID-19 response.

“The DICT Free Wi-Fi for All in the office is very important,” said Kasey Lean A. Suela, Administrative Aide for Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) in Basilan Province. “We were able to connect to different meetings and other activities, especially DRRM-related ones, which required internet connection,” she added.

Capacitated citizenry

The DICT also strengthened the implementation of its capacity development programs to upskill Filipinos in terms of ICT skills, competencies, and knowledge.

In 2020, the Department conducted a total of 849 capacity development activities that trained 48,389 participants and attended by 135,310 webinar participants, totalling 183,699 people trained in 2020 alone. These figures show that the DICT continued the intensified rollout of its capacity-building initiatives despite the physical limitations imposed by the new normal.

For the first quarter of 2021, the DICT conducted 151 capacity-building activities and trainings, attended by a total of 36,377 participants.

Strengthened operations

Secretary Honasan was also concerned with improving the DICT’s operational efficiency to better manage and implement its programs. During his term, the DICT has continually strengthened its human resource and internal organization as it started regularizing the majority of its current workforce in 2020.

Honasan encourages initiatives that aim to empower and upskill the workforce. The DICT, through its ICT Industry Development Bureau (IIDB), partnered with Microsoft Corporation for the conduct of a nationwide upskilling initiative to empower government employees. The skilling initiative provides an educational portal wherein users can access relevant technology-related content to advance their ICT skills.

The Department also recently partnered with the University of the Philippines-Technology Management Center (UP-TMC) for the Government Chief Information (GCIO) Program, offering scholarships to qualified government employees to pursue the Masters in Technology Management (MTM) Program.

The Center for Global ICT Training, Certification, and Recognition was also established to provide training and industry-level certifications. Together with the GCIO program, these initiatives will be integrated as part of the ICT Academy, which shall spearhead the DICT’s various capacity and capability development programs.

Harmonized governance

Honasan also recognized the need for innovative responses to the evolving needs and concerns of society. Hence, during his term, the DICT developed and updated its plans to harmonize the Philippine government’s ICT landscape.

Through Department Circular (DC) No. 010, s. 2020, the DICT issued amendments to DC No. 002 s. 2017, which prescribes the Philippine Government’s Cloud First Policy.

This policy aims to reduce the acquisition and operation costs of government information and technology resources by eliminating the duplication of hardware and systems and reducing fragmentation of databases. The policy also promotes the use of cloud computing technology to reduce costs, increase employee productivity, and develop excellent citizen online services.

Protected cyberspace and improved disaster response

The DICT also conducted a CybersafePH Campaign to combat the increased rate of cybercrime amid the pandemic. The campaign provided practical tips to keep individuals safe during online platforms and to keep private online data secured.

As more and more companies and agencies adopted work-from-home arrangements, the DICT’s Philippine National Public Key Infrastructure (PNPKI) Digital Certificates allowed users to securely exchange information and transact electronically.

The Department also focused on cybersecurity information campaigns to improve public awareness of common cyber threats and how to fight them. The DICT’s Cybersafe Awareness Program promotes cyber hygiene awareness, and has been continuously delivering cyber-related trainings and webinars to the general public.

Aside from cyber threats, the DICT’s Government Emergency Communications System (GECS) project deployed its Mobile Operations Vehicle for Emergency (MOVE), a rapid deployable asset capable of bridging communications gaps between responders, to various strategic regions this year to boost the country’s disaster preparedness.

Collaborative COVID-19 response

The Department is also pursuing inter-agency initiatives to support the government’s COVID-19 response.

The DICT is overseeing the operation of the Vaccine Information Management System (VIMS) that serves as the key processing and analytics systems for COVID-19 immunization in the country. This is pursuant to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) Resolution No. 96, s. 2021 issued last January 26, 2021.

In view of this, Honasan partnered with San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora for the pilot implementation of the DICT Vaccine Administration System (D-VAS). Honasan also led the DICT in providing tablets, laptops, and pocket Wi-Fi kits to the citizens of various LGUs.

The Department provided free Internet connectivity through its Free Public Internet Access Program to COVID-19 quarantine and testing centers, hospitals, and rural health units to facilitate seamless communications for front-liners and patients alike.

Honasan says that the DICT shall continue working closely with the IATF and the Department of Health (DOH) for a properly coordinated response to the ongoing pandemic, especially on solutions to resolve and address the digital divide.

Currently, the DICT is developing a vaccination certification system that would allow vaccinated citizens to easily apply for travel passes to be used locally and abroad.

CHIP Framework Implementation Plan

Moving forward, Honasan commits to improve the Philippines’ readiness for full and inclusive participation in the global digital economy in view of its role as a driver of digital transformation.

In view of the DICT’s 5th anniversary celebration last June 9, 2021, the Department launched its new CHIP conceptual framework. CHIP—which stands for Connect, Harness, Innovate, and Protect—contains the Department’s medium- to long-term plans and initiatives.

Under each component of the framework, the DICT is creating and expanding new economy services, business models, digital entrepreneurship, and e-government to help every sector of society adapt.

The Connect component focuses on digital connectivity and access by building and enhancing the existing digital infrastructure in the country. The goal is to provide quality Internet services that can meet the connectivity needs of local ICT talent.

The Department is investing in capacity and capability-building initiatives to benefit ICT-enabled industries and professionals under its Harness component. The various programs under this thrust aim to upskill workers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to boost skills development. The goal is to help more Filipinos start their own businesses, get an education, and gain productive employment that would sufficiently meet the advanced demands of the global digital economy.

Under the Innovate thrust, the DICT is committed to achieve the digitalization and integration of government and business services online, pursuant to the Ease of Doing Business Act of 2018. The DICT is also encouraging better investment opportunities and business expansion in the countryside to expand the local talent pool.

Finally, the Protect component covers the DICT’s efforts towards building a more secure and resilient cyber landscape where citizens, businesses, and the government can pursue growth and development.

The CHIP framework is a key roadmap to synthesize the DICT’s existing and future initiatives into a coherent national strategy for ICT development and preparedness moving forward.

“As we restructure and realign our efforts under this new framework, we hope to continue learning and developing more needs-responsive initiatives to meet the demands of the Philippines’ digital transformation journey,” Honasan said.