Non-profit organization Democracy Watch asked the government to accelerate the development of a world-class digital infrastructure by allowing the private sector to make the necessary investments.
"Having a world-class digital infrastructure is essential to responding to citizens’ needs and bridging the digital divide. Now is the time to build the towers and broadband networks, and we need to build it fast," Democracy Watch lead convenor Paco A. Pangalangan said in a virtual roundtable discussion on June 30.
The group said both the national and local governments should incentivize the growth of digital infrastructure. Specifically, the national government should identify the policy and bureaucratic roadblocks to the growth of private sector digital infrastructure, while local governments should follow this direction to streamline permitting process for digital infrastructure projects, it said.
"We should harness the potential of both the private and public sector through PPPs to bridge the digital divide," Pangalangan said.
Democracy Watch said the development of digital infrastructure becomes more crucial today as the citizens' demand for fast, stable and affordable broadband and telco services continues to grow.
"The government must harness the potential of both the private and public sector to bridge the digital divide. This works well with an all society approach that stands to benefit all levels of the population through future proof infrastructure to deliver these services to all citizens," it said.
Democracy Watch said the government should remove red tape and clunky regulatory barriers and speed up permit issuance.
"The removal of bureaucratic choke points will facilitate the swift development of ICT infrastructure, making e-governance accessible to every Filipino. Besides removing red tape, the national government should also put a premium on public-sector investments in digital infrastructures such as telecommunications towers and free Wi-Fi, especially in underserved areas. After all, in our journey into a more democratic, transparent, and accountable normal, no Filipino can be left behind," it said.
Democracy Watch said e-governance, or the use of digital technology in government services, also presents a systemic solution towards transparency and accountability.
"At Democracy Watch, we believe that by fast-tracking our nation's transition to digital environments, the present [health] crisis gives us the opportunity to adopt e-governance. E-governance would also let us harness technology to address issues in significant pain points in terms of both transparency and efficiency, such as procurement, taxation, and customs," Pangalangan said.
"Through transitioning government services online, we can reduce contact points and opportunities for entrenched 'for the boys' bribery practices, fixers, and excessive red tape," he said.
Former Supreme Court Associate Justice and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said the coronavirus pandemic highlights the need for the governments to rely on hard science in crafting public policy. "Governments can no longer ignore science, like what some global leaders have been doing on the issue of climate change. Sooner or later, nature will have its way, whether human beings like it or not. For one, Congress cannot amend or repeal the law of physics or the established precepts on medical microbiology," she said.
"We need to come to terms with the need to comprehend scientific data and learn from new discoveries or best practices from leading countries in order to come up with data-driven responses," Morales said.
Prof. Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, cited the importance of public-private partnership to develop digital infrastructure.
“We can build forward only with collaboration and a firm commitment to responsiveness and transparency. Through responsive and collaborative governance, we would be able to efficiently and effectively address citizens’ real needs, especially the poor and underrepresented amid the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.