Today, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” B. Honasan II files his certificate of candidacy (COC) for Senator in the 2022 elections, effectively resigning from the DICT. As his term comes to a close, a look at his two-year run as the ICT Chief remarkably shows massive accomplishments and strides in advancing ICT-driven connectivity in the Philippines.

“Connectivity, which includes access to data and information, is now classified as a right, just like food, clothing, shelter and health services,” Honasan said. “Simula nang tayo ay manungkulan sa DICT, ating pinalakas at pinalawak ang implementasyon ng ating mga programa para pataasin ang antas ng connectivity sa bansa,” he added.

As a former Senator, Secretary Honasan assumed office as the DICT chief on July 1, 2019. Under his leadership, the DICT developed and implemented programs and initiatives to boost ICT-driven connectivity in the nation.

Secretary Honasan’s leadership was first and foremost instrumental in improving the DICT’s operational efficiency. The first issue he encountered in DICT was the status of the placement process of the Department’s personnel. Hence, his first order of business was to strengthen the Department’s human resource and internal organization by regularizing the majority of its current workforce.

When Secretary Honasan first started, only 300 plantilla positions were carried over from the predecessors of DICT that were placed, or roughly 30% of the organization. As of September 30 2021, 899 personnel have now been appointed to plantilla positions and around 75% of the Department’s plantilla positions have now been filled up.

Secretary Honasan’s focus on intensifying the DICT’s connectivity programs led to improvements in PH ICT competitiveness. As of August 2021, the country’s recorded average download speeds for fixed broadband is now at 72.56 Mbps and 33.77 Mbps for mobile. This also represents an increase of 817.32% in its average fixed broadband Internet speed and a 353.898% increase in mobile Internet speed since July 2016, which recorded only 7.91 Mbps and 7.44 Mbps for fixed broadband and mobile respectively.

The Philippines’ fixed broadband speed now ranks 63rd out of 180 countries in the Global Index, while mobile internet speed ranks 73rd out of 140 countries. This is an impressive leap from the previous year’s rankings of 108th and 121st and represents an increase of 45 and 48 notches for fixed broadband and mobile respectively.

Improvements in PH global competitiveness are also evident in the third annual edition of the Digital Quality of Life Index (DQL), where the Philippines now ranks 48th out of 110 countries, climbing 18 marks compared to last year and surpassing our neighbor Indonesia. The DQL index study is carried out by cybersecurity company Surfshark and covers 90% of the global population.

The Department’s primary efforts involve prioritizing the rollout of its digital connectivity programs, such as the National Broadband Program (NBP) and the Free Wi-Fi for All Program.

The 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 the year 2020 alone. As of October 1 this year, there are now 11,203 Free Wi-Fi sites installed in the country.

The NBP, on the other hand, aims to establish a government-owned broadband network and to accelerate the deployment of fiber optic cables and wireless technologies to improve Internet speed in the country. Last December 2020, the DICT and Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) entered into an agreement for the deployment of the Phase 1 of the National Fiber Backbone.

Ang inyong DICT ay naglabas din ng Common Tower Policy sa ilalim ng Department Circular No. 008, s. 2021 at ng Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 1, s. 2020, upang mapaikli namin ang timeline para sa proseso ng pagtatayo ng mga common tower,” Honasan stated.

The common tower initiative aims to address connectivity needs by improving access to cost-efficient ICT infrastructure and encouraging private investments in the construction of Passive Telecommunication Tower Infrastructures (PTTIs), especially in unserved and underserved areas.

During Honasan’s term, the DICT 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, which streamlines the permitting and issuance of necessary clearances for building common towers.

Due to said policies, the timeline for tower construction was shortened 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 8, and of documentary requirements from 86 to 35.

Complementing these efforts, the DICT also launched the Digital Infrastructure Monitoring System: Tower Watch PH mechanism last month to facilitate a more streamlined process monitoring of tower construction. The initiative aims to ease the regulatory burdens that impede the construction of telecommunications infrastructure in the country.

The DICT also fully supports Executive Order No. 127 and its objective of widening the country’s Internet connectivity by liberalizing access to satellite technology to allow telcos and internet service providers direct access to all satellite systems, both domestic and international.

With the issuance of Executive Order 127 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), it is expected to lead to more freedom in access to satellite technology and an increase in the deployment of last mile connectivity to geographically isolated and disadvantaged faster.

Apart from the intensified rollout of digital connectivity programs and the strengthening of operations, the DICT also strengthened the implementation of its capacity development programs to upskill Filipinos in terms of ICT skills, competencies, and knowledge.

The Department entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on June 28, 2021 with the University of the Philippines-Technology Management Center (UP-TMC) which provided scholarships to 100 government employees under the Government CIO Master’s Program. The Center for Global ICT Training, Certification, and Recognition (Center) was also established to provide trainings and industry-level certifications. These projects will be integrated as part of the ICT Academy, which will take charge of the DICT’s capacity and capability development programs.

The DICT also managed to establish a total of 4,745 Tech4ED Centers since the program’s inception. Tech4ED provides opportunities to marginalized sectors to thrive in the digital economy.

Honasan also led the handover of laptop devices and tablets to students from various Department of Education (DepED) Schools as well as Local Government Units (LGUs) through the DICT’s Digital Education Program and its component expanded Cybersafe Learning Project, which seeks to optimize the use of ICT for the enhancement of cyber-education and promotion of digital literacy.

Moreover, Secretary Honasan also fully supported the government’s push for digital transformation in support of the mandates of the Ease of Doing Business Act of 2018. The DICT implemented various digital government programs to assist the national and local government agencies to streamline their processes through online platforms.

These initiatives include the Central Business Portal (CBP) which digitalizes and simplifies business registration and application for national level permits and licenses with various government agencies; and the Integrated Business Permits and Licensing System (iBPLS) which streamlines the processing and issuance of various permits, certificates and licenses in all cities and municipalities.

As of August 31, 2021, there are 270 Local Government Units (LGUs) linked to the CBP and 673 LGUs using the Business Permit module of the iBPLS system.

Additionally, with the enactment of Republic Act No. 11337 or the “Innovative Startup Act”, the DICT is one of the agencies seeking to establish a sustainable business environment through the Philippine Startups Development Program (PSDP).

Under Honasan’s term, the DICT further worked on intensified support for the government’s new normal response as well as implementing disaster recovery and resiliency measures.

This includes the conduct of various webinars and awareness trainings under the Cybersafe Awareness Program as well as the deployment of the Government Emergency Communications System – Mobile Operations Vehicle for Emergency (GECS-MOVE), to various strategic regions this year to boost the country’s disaster preparedness.

Moreover, through Republic Act 10929 or the Free Internet in Public Places Act, the DICT developed the Child Online Safeguarding Policy (COSP) to protect one of the most vulnerable segments of our population, our children. Under the policy, the Department aims to safeguard children from harmful or age-inappropriate content as well as create child-friendly online reporting mechanisms.

Finally, DICT is also engaged in several inter-agency initiatives to support the government’s ongoing COVID-19 response, such as 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, as well as the DICT Vaccine Administration System (D-VAS).

The DICT also spearheaded the development of the VaxCertPH portal to ensure that Filipinos can benefit from the speedy issuance of digital and uniform vaccine certifications.

Marami pa tayong kailangang gawin lalo na sa harap ng mga hamon na dala ng new normal, pero patuloy naming gagawin ang lahat ng ating makakaya hanggang sa lahat ng ating mamamayan, saan man sila sa bansa, ay konektado at may access sa Internet,” Honasan asserted.

“We intend to future-proof all our programs for sustainability since our long-standing goal is to ensure that the strides we have made in the current administration will serve as leverage for the initiatives of our future leaders to further advance the national ICT agenda,” he added. “Even after my term as ICT chief, patuloy po tayong magtutulungan as we establish a connected and prosperous nation.”