Women in ICT

To reach and connect the remotest and most far-flung communities in the country is one of the priority initiatives of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). With the country’s transition to the new normal, the Department has further ramped up its connectivity efforts, especially in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs), to help all Filipinos transition to the new normal. 

One of the leading and active proponents of DICT’s connectivity efforts is Mindanao Cluster 1 Regional Director Maria Teresa Camba. A Cum Laude graduate with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in AgriBusiness from Ateneo de Davao University and a Master degree in Public Administration from Western Mindanao State University, she said pursuing a career in the ICT field was not planned.

She joined the National Computer Center (NCC) as a Systems Researcher and rose from the ranks to become NCC’s Director for Field Operations. She was formerly assigned as a concurrent Project Manager for the Tech4ED Project from July 2016 to August 2018 while heading the DICT Mindanao Cluster 1 as Acting Director. A Career Executive Service Officer, she now focuses on her role as Regional Director for Zamboanga Peninsula Region and the Provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi Tawi. Under her leadership, DICT MC1 was able to provide connectivity to GIDAs, such as the island provinces of BASULTA. 

“We want to give them the same opportunities with Filipinos who are already connected. Students in remote areas should have access to learning materials that their counterparts in the urban areas enjoy. MSMEs (Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises) should be able to use technology to expand their market reach. Those who are unemployed and underemployed don’t have to leave their beautiful islands to earn a living. They can be trained on digital jobs and work online from the Tech4ED Centers or from their homes.”

Director Camba said connecting far-flung island communities is one of the greatest challenges the office faces in program implementation, especially during the ongoing pandemic.

“The Municipalities of Turtle Islands and Mapun in Tawi-Tawi, for example, are nearer Malaysia than Bongao, the Capital Town or Zamboanga City. It takes over 30 hours by commercial vessel from Zamboanga City to reach Mapun. Turtle Islands, on the other hand, is less than 30 minutes via speed boat from Sandakan, Malaysia.”

She highlighted the importance of synergy in overcoming said challenges.

“Partnership is key. We worked with Western Mindanao Command, Philippine Coast Guard, and the Local Government Units to provide the means of transportation and security for our travels. We are going to Sulu Province in April with the help of these organizations. They are very supportive and I’m grateful,” she explained. 

To improve Internet connectivity in the country, Director Camba said the government should continue to invest especially in areas where the private telcos have no service facilities, among others. She added that DICT MC 1 has proposed for the establishment of the Zamboanga Peninsula Broadband Network in Region 9 which was already endorsed by the Regional Development Council as a priority project of the region. 

“A lot of people in the rural areas are still unconnected. We should change this and change this fast,” she said. 

She added that DICT MC 1’s immediate plan for 2021 is to connect all municipalities, hospitals (including District Hospitals), State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and their extension offices, military camps, airports and seaports, and the big isolation facilities in areas covered by MC1. 

Likewise, DICT MC 1 also targets to establish at least one Tech4ED Center that will serve as a hub for ICT training and delivery of e-government and other ICT-based services in all local government units (LGUs) by the end of 2021. Currently, seventy percent of LGUs in MC1 have at least one Tech4ED Center.

Director Camba also emphasized that the key to addressing challenges is by exploring creative, innovative, and practical solutions.

“When our public biddings for the internet in BASULTA continued to fail, we took it upon ourselves to connect the island province.  MC1 team installed a wireless broadband network to connect Isabela and Lamitan in Basilan from Zamboanga. We were able to provide over 30 offices, schools and hospitals in the province with high speed Internet. More offices and public places will be connected this year through this initiative. This project is one of the nominees among 4 Philippine entries to the 2021 World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Project Prizes under the ICT Infrastructure Category.  In Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, we deployed VSATs,” she said. 

Last year, the Cluster was named Champion for the same contest hosted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Director Camba’s leadership brought DICT MC1 under spotlight as the cluster received various recognition.

“Leading the MC1 Team in changing people’s lives for the better through ICT is so fulfilling. The DICT initiatives we are implementing on the ground create a great impact in the lives of the people,” she stated. “We have a committed, hardworking team who make sure we do not just accomplish our goals but exceed them.”

Recently recognized as one of the winners in the Civil Service Commission’s Regional Search for Outstanding Government Workers in the Philippines for 2018, Director Camba is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished directors of the DICT. Joining the celebration and advancement of women empowerment, she encourages her fellow women to pursue a career in the field of ICT as there are many opportunities available for them. 

“Just go for IT! A career in ICT is very rewarding, and as digital transformation is happening at a faster speed than before the pandemic, there will be more opportunities for both men and women in the field of ICT.”