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Statement by Undersecretary for Communications, Dept of Transportation & Communications of the Philippines at the WTDC-02

Statement
by
Mr. Agustin R. Bengzon
Undersecretary for Communications
Department of Transportation and Communications
Republic of the Philippines

Wednesday, 20 March 2002

On behalf of the Philippine delegation, I wish to express our gratitude to the ITU and the Government of Turkey for making this WTDC Conference possible. We also wish to thank you for giving us the opportunity to share this message.

Today’s life has become faster, automated, convenient and mobile thanks to advancing technology and the Internet. These two factors have brought change that is universal, making this world a borderless world. As a result of this fledgling integration, the so-called "global village" was born where people have begun to take a broader perspective of the new world.

The ICT sector is in the center of the changes that we are now experiencing. Many of us have varied views and analyses of the current situation and how to address the challenges posed by the prominence of ICT.

In the Philippines, HE President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has stressed the importance of ICT in her administration’s economic development program. In her address before the APEC Chief Executive Officers’ Summit in Shanghai, she said her administration understands that it must act realistically and strategically to meet the requirements of ICT. Her government would initially concentrate on the following areas: building the physical infrastructure, ensuring an appropriate policy and regulatory environment, and the further development of human resources to close the digital divide.

The Philippines shares the view that much has transpired since the inception of the WTDC. Consider the following milestones to underscore this viewpoint:

  1. The 1994 WTDC yielded the Buenos Aires Action Plan that aimed to achieve a "balanced development of telecommunications worldwide." The major problem then was to address the disparity in telecommunications development in a world divided into what was formerly described as between the "haves and the have nots."

  2. The 1998 WTDC sought to give more concrete results to the Buenos Aires Action Plan when it met in Valetta, Malta to, among others, review the status of its implementation, establish the Global Information Society, and ultimately led to the adoption of the Valetta Action Plan.

  3. In turn, the 2002 WTDC will "establish work programs and guidelines, define ICT development questions and priorities" that shall lead to the "next development cycle", among others.

Significant accomplishments have been made over the years. But like all developing economies, there are issues such as the decades-old issue of the gap between the "haves and have nots" that we, as a country and as a global community, still need to resolve. Unfortunately, things seem to take a turn for the worse. It became apparent during the discussions of the 1998 WTDC regarding the Global Information Society that there arose another deeper division of the world, and far more acute than the dichotomy of the world into the "haves and the have nots." This new kind of disparity later became known as the world of the "information rich and the information poor", a demarcation that seems to grow larger with new technological breakthroughs and the introduction of global trade in telecommunications.

By the turn of the new millennium, the issues of lack of universal access and the information gap metamorphosed further into a new schism of a greater magnitude. It is called the "Digital Divide" which shows a higher form of polarization of countries and its peoples. The world is now halved between those with the capability or the readiness to participate in the global knowledge economy, on one hand, and on the other side of the Digital Divide are those with no infrastructure capability and general readiness to accommodate high-tech driven growth. The Philippine government looks seriously at this Conference to seek directions on how to address this gap.

This historical perspective, of the last eight years, presents how the stark contrast between past and present has reached evolutionary scale. The changes are immense in terms of the perils posed by the Digital Divide. Under such an atmosphere, participants of the WTDC must decide how it must respond if it is to cope with its extreme effects. It is from this viewpoint, that the Philippines supports the efforts of the BDT to gather a consensus within the WTDC for the adoption of an action plan that shall be more responsive to the interests of all Members of the ITU, particularly those from developing economies in bridging the Digital Divide.

Towards this end, the Philippines, for its part, has consistently participated in endeavors in close collaboration with the ITU in bridging the Digital Divide. For the record, the Philippines has served to represent the policy aspirations of developing economies in many capacities including the occasion when the Philippines was honored by its election to chair the 2000 ITU Council Meeting. Aside from its active involvement in consultations for the formation of common Asia-Pacific regional positions for submission to the 2002 WTDC, the Philippines is exerting efforts to introduce reforms in its Administration to counter the adverse effects of the Digital Divide.

The Philippines has completed its draft convergence policy courtesy of a technical assistance provided by the ITU Asia-Pacific Regional Office. The draft convergence policy is currently undergoing legislative consideration. Once passed into law, the convergence policy is expected to not only mitigate the Digital Divide through more investments into the ICT industry, but will also contribute to universal access and enable the restructuring of the whole ICT sector to adapt with worldwide convergence trends. In this manner, the convergence policy may serve as a model for other developing Administrations to consider. Furthermore, the Philippine Administration is finalizing its program with the ITU to conduct a policy and regulatory course this year in connection with HE Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s thrust on ICT and human resource development.

The support the Philippines has received from the ITU proves that developing economies have a lot to be hopeful for in bringing them in step with the global information society.

I, therefore, urge fellow delegates not to overlook the window of opportunity that this Conference will be opening to all ITU members. Let us all work together and seek collaborative efforts to address the digital divide and to identify opportunities beneficial to all Members.

 

 

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