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SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau

24 August 2021 10:20:03 AM

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has called for more investments in information and communication technology (ICT) to bridge a massive “digital divide” that has been exposed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing his fellow lawmakers in Southeast Asia during a meeting of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), Velasco said the digital divide—which allows some to stay on task remotely while others left out—prevents societies from harnessing the full benefits that ICT and digital economy can deliver.

“Everyone must have equitable access to opportunities the digital economy has to offer. Greater efforts should be made to narrow the digital divide within the specific context of each member state and community,”Velasco said in a statement he delivered remotely during AIPA’s 42nd General Assembly hosted by Brunei Darussalam on August 23-25.

“The key is to invest in sufficient infrastructure and connectivity to broaden physical access to mobile and internet networks, which will also enhance access to education, markets, and other economic opportunities,” he added.

AIPA members convened virtually as the region is still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic. This year’s theme focused on ASEAN parliamentary cooperation on digital connectivity and inclusion that will lay the groundwork for a resilient economic recovery.

According to Velasco, the call to leverage the digital economy has become more compelling as the region grapples with the nature of the “new normal.”

While it continues to ravage people’s lives and the economy, Velasco said the pandemic has accelerated digitalization, which is “transforming the way we communicate, work, learn, and live.”

He noted that digital platforms have “enabled our people to stay connected and engaged, and for many businesses to operate amid the lockdown.”

With mobility restrictions, Velasco said the use of these technologies supports work-from-home arrangements, remote learning, and offsite service delivery.

Velasco said the digital transformation is now a major strategic focus for ASEAN to drive economic recovery and build back better.

However, Velasco lamented that not all ASEAN countries are able to leverage digital technologies to their full potential, citing the gaps between nations in the region in basic access to the internet, along with speed and cost.

He also cited the disparity in internet access within countries, especially in remote and marginalized areas, as well as the “significant gaps” in policy and regulatory infrastructure to unlock further growth in the digital economy.

In the Philippine context, Velasco said steps have been taken to reduce the digital divide by lowering regulatory and other barriers to market entry.

He said the House of Representatives has approved legislative measures that allow a more diverse set of providers to enter and operate in the market.

These include the Open Access in Data Transmission Act, which aims to establish a strong and independent regulatory system and body to ensure fair competition in the data transmission industry; and the Amendments to the Public Service Act, which provides a clear distinction between how a public service and public utility is defined, in effect relaxing foreign participation in public utilities.

He said the legislature also helped foster a conducive environment to minimize inherent risks in a digital economy amid issues of misuse of private information, personal security breaches and unsafe access that deter producers and consumers from embracing digital solutions.

To build trust and protect consumers, Velasco said that Congress passed the Internet Transactions Act to regulate all business-to-business and business-to-consumer commercial transactions over the internet, including those related to internet retail, online travel services, digital media providers, ride-hailing services, and digital financial services.
To date, Velasco said only four ASEAN member states have data protection laws namely, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand; while other states in the region such as Indonesia are in various stages of developing their own data protection and privacy laws.

“Given the scale of the pandemic, ASEAN and AIPA have utilized digital diplomacy, with all of its meetings across all sectors held online, including those with Dialogue Partners,” Velasco said.

“Digital diplomacy has indeed helped ASEAN member states continue their dialogue and coordination, and mobilize regional mechanisms to tackle the public health crisis,” he added. #