Gloria Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address 2006 is packed full of promises once again. One worth noting is her take on the information and communications technology (ICT) as far as the Philippine development is concerned, to with:
We will enhance the competitive advantage of the natural â€œsuper regions-â€ of-the-Philippines: the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle, the Metro Luzon Urban Beltway, Central Philippines, Mindanao and the Cyber Corridor.
The Cyber Corridor will boost telecommunications, technology and education. The corridor runs the length of all the super regions, from Baguio to Cebu to Davao. The cities of Davao, Tagum and Samal Island Garden all operate electronic government accounting systems. There are many wings now to the corridor because enterprising local executives like L-Ray Villafuerte and Jerry Trenas have aggressively attracted call centers to their jurisdictions (Congratulations, Jerry) In this corridor, the English and information and communication technology skills of the youth give them a competitive edge in call centers and other business process outsourcing.
In 2001, in this hall, we hailed ICT as a key growth sector. So we built up telecommunications infrastructure and opened the market for Internet phone calls. Today international calls cost 6 cents a minute, down from 40 cents. From 2,000 BPO workers in 2001, we now have 200,000.
A neo-liberal economist herself, Arroyo sees the Philippines as host to foreign companies wanting to outsource their core business processes like human resource, finance and administration. Thus, her passion to scale up the country’s telecommunications infrastructure and establish more and more call centers.
The CICT has found a fresh mandate from this announcement by Arroyo. CICT Chair Ramon Sales has been named as champion of the Cyberservices Corridor.
According to CICT’s web site, the CICT will “continue to pursue a breakthrough value proposition for the ICT industry.â€ The CICT “takes the lead in addressing the need to develop competencies English, enhance skills in ICT among others, in the areas covered by the Corridor.”
Located primarily in cities and provinces having strategic ICT plans, the cyberservices corridor project has three tiers, namely:
- First tier: Metro Manila, Sta. Rosa, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao.
- Second tier: Baguio, Poro Point, Dagupan, Tarlac, Batangas, Lipa, Legazpi City, Naga,Tacloban, Iloilo, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro, and Gen. Santos City.
- Third tier: Cabanatuan, Tuguegarao, Tagbilaran, Puerto Princesa, Iligan, and Zamboanga.
Now, the cyber corridor craze leaves me with several worries. First, relating telecommunications and technology to education puts our youth in great danger. This is because secondary and tertiary schools, public or private, may be encouraged, if not coerced, to give premium to curricula in English and ICT, thereby putting other stuff like the arts and sports in the backburner.
Second, the fight for open standards will be tougher as proprietary-standards entities will surely figure in to win concessions from government. I’m sure that Microsoft, for one, has already salivated.
Third, because of the foregoing, the digital divide will grow much wider. Government will emphasize computerization over other forms of communication and education.
These worries pose a tough challenge of continuously engaging the CICT like pressuring the agency not to go against the principles of its ICT Roadmap (not yet final, though) and not to backslide from initial gains like the open standards policy in the National Computer Center and gradual adoption of free and open source software (FOSS) in public schools.