By Cai Ordinario, August 11, 2020; Business Mirror

Filipinos should brace for a “digital new normal” and local government units (LGUs) need to step up in bridging the digital divide beginning in their localities, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

In a presentation in a webinar on Tuesday, Neda Undersecretary for Planning and Policy Rosemarie G. Edillon assured LGUs can count on the government’s support in this endeavor.

Edillon said Bayanihan 2, which outlines the P140- billion stimulus package of the government, includes assistance to LGUs. She added that the budget for 2021 of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) increased by as much as 10 times compared to previous years.

“If we fail, we will have a very unequal society. We don’t want this digital divide,” Edillon stressed.

Edillon said the government is also in the process of crafting executive orders that will address gaps in the country’s digitization.

She said for LGUs who already have the digital infrastructure, they should now elevate their efforts by giving their citizens access to these facilities.

Edillon said LGUs should strengthen e-governance systems for the delivery of government services, such as securing permits and clearances, as well as the payment of taxes and fees.

LGUs should consider setting up Mobile Revenue Collection Office System; Electronic Business Permits and Licensing System; and creating one-stop online shops linking all digital services.

Edillon said LGUs can also consider providing free Wi-fi access to all in public facilities and places, as well as the creation of digital palengke or supermarkets.

“To support digitization efforts, LGUs can initiate measures to facilitate establishment of ICT infrastructures in order to have stable and reliable Internet connection and wider coverage,” Edillon said in a presentation.

The Neda official said these efforts must also be accompanied by human capital development to generate more employment.

LGUs, Edillon said, can provide free virtual trainings and seminars on ICT technical skills and topics on emerging industries to improve knowledge and the competency of job seekers.

She said LGUs can also host online job placements to help more of their citizens to have access to employment opportunities.

Neda is currently leading the government’s inter-agency task force on recovery dubbed Recharge PH program. Recharge PH seeks to refocus, sharpen the design and accelerate the implementation of programs under the 2020 General Appropriations to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and help get the Philippine economy recover from the sharp decline in the second quarter of the year.

Recharge PH builds on the work of the Inter Agency Task Force Technical Working Group for Anticipatory and Forward Planning, also led by Neda, which produced the We Recover as One report containing the initial assessment of the socioeconomic impact of Covid-19.

Three sub-task groups (sTGs) led by the Department of Trade and Industry (Economic Recovery), Department of Social Welfare and Development (Social Recovery), and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (Governance) have also been formed to assist government in the development of programs and projects that will contribute to the fight against Covid-19 and in the creation of innovative delivery mechanisms in consideration of the new normal.

The sTGs will play a crucial role in the identification, monitoring, and evaluation of the programs and projects that will address and mitigate the impact of Covid-19. Also, the sTGs will ensure the complementation and convergence of efforts of national government agencies and other task groups, and provide recommendations to the National Task Force on Covid-19.

The Task Force on Recovery also aims to strengthen consumer protection, and develop policy interventions to address stigma, discrimination and human rights violations towards health workers and people with Covid-19, including those who have recovered from the virus.

Recharge PH is to be implemented within 2020 and into 2021 and will be incorporated in the Updated Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022.