By Lorenz S. Marasigan and Cai Ordinario, March 24, 2021; Business Mirror

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) vowed to strengthen its commitment and initiatives in developing the industry, as the country was named “second over performer” in an industry report released recently by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

This, even as a separate international report flagged the inequalities that remain in countries like the Philippines as a result of the digital divide.

The Unctad report showed the Philippines was among the few developing countries that exhibited stronger capabilities to use, adopt, and adapt frontier technologies than its per capita income.

In particular, the Philippines was one of the top developing countries to have better frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), big data, blockchain, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, 5G, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaics (PV).

According to the report, “the over performance of a nation is measured by the difference between the actual index ranking and the estimated index ranking based on per capita income.”

Other countries in the top five include India, Ukraine, Vietnam and China.

“This achievement is made possible by the concerted efforts of the government, including your DICT. We are deeply elated by this achievement because it means that we are now beginning to reap the fruits of our efforts,” ICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II said.

Inequality flagged
The report also warned countries of the rise of inequality brought by a new wave of technological change, urging developing countries to work towards universal Internet access and ensure all their citizens have opportunities to learn the skills required for frontier technologies.

“We at the DICT recognize the reality of the problem presented in the report. Rest assured that we are committed in further strengthening our Digital Connectivity as well as our Digital Education, Skills and Jobs initiatives in the new normal to bridge the digital gap brought into sharper focus by the coronavirus disease 2019 or Covid-19 pandemic,” Honasan said.

Among the programs the DICT is implementing to address the digital gap are: the National Broadband Program (NBP), the Free Wi-Fi for All Program, and the Common Tower Initiative

Boost for SDGs
Digital technologies can help Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, to fast-track their achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and recovery from the pandemic, according to a joint report released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

United Nations Undersecretary-General and Executive Secretary of Escap Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana said efforts to recover from the pandemic need digital technology and mainstreaming data, among others.

“The region now must develop digital technology-based policy responses and mainstream data and statistics in [the region’s] recovery [from the pandemic],” Alisjahbana said in her speech at the 8th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) which started on Tuesday.

The report noted that digital capacities in many parts of the region are low. The Philippines and Lao PDR have a big gap in the share of adults with bank accounts between the top 60 percent and the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution.

Further, Internet use is lower among those in the bottom 40 percent of the population in the region. In the Philippines, Filipinos over 35 years old are the least connected while in Lao PDR, Internet connection is also affected by gender.

The data also showed that in Indonesia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam, among other countries, lower education levels are associated with low Internet use.

The report also noted that while digitization of wage payments in the Philippines is progressing, there is still an “ample scope for greater inclusion.”

“The pandemic has provided us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make bold choices that put us on a path to green, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable recovery, in line with the ambition of the SDGs,” said ADB Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Bambang Susantono. “Through strong and inclusive partnerships, we must work even harder to build a healthier, safer, fairer, and more prosperous Asia and the Pacific.”

ADB said the report highlighted inequalities and vulnerabilities in the region that have amplified the impact of the pandemic, especially among the poorest, women, and socially excluded groups.

The report, ADB said, noted the risk that some parts of the region could recover faster than others, and further deepen inequality between countries.

Rapid digitalization, ADB said, reduced the impact of the pandemic for some people in many countries, but digital divides may perpetuate the exclusion of vulnerable groups.

However, policy-makers and the private sector should work together to ensure that digitalization creates opportunities for all, and enables progress on the SDGs.

The report said regional cooperation efforts should focus also on people-centered development, sustainability, and climate change, to address environmental vulnerabilities that have compounded the pandemic’s health and socioeconomic impacts.

“While the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the socioeconomic and political landscape of Asia and the Pacific, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development must continue to be our guiding light for a sustainable, green and inclusive recovery,” National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Rosemarie G. Edillon said on Tuesday.

Despite the impact of the lockdowns on the economy and the welfare of Filipinos, the Neda remained confident the country can still attain the SDGs by 2030.

In a 2021 SDG report, the Unescap said Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, are only on track to meet one goal while the progress in others are either stagnant or regressing.

Much of this was brought by the pandemic, particularly the lockdowns that governments imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19. The Philippines has been on lockdown for a year, the longest implemented anywhere in the world.

“We have a good head start so we can achieve them. For instance, we can achieve our poverty target of 6 million lifted in 2018, or 4 years ahead of the 2022 target,” Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua told BusinessMirror on Tuesday. “[In terms of] poverty, we are on track. We [just] have to open [the] economy more safely.”

Chua added that the country’s poverty targets remain achievable, despite the millions of Filipinos who became unemployed last year. In January 2021, around 4 million Filipinos remained unemployed.

“We think it’s too soon to throw in the towel on the SDG targets. It will be more challenging, but we need to catch up. At the same time, we need to make sure that the gains are sustained by building resiliency,” Neda’s Edillon also told BusinessMirror.

In a briefing on Tuesday, Rony Soerakoesoemah, Head of Escap Sub-regional Office for South-East Asia said the region is regressing in 18 SDG indicators except in SDGs 2, 5, 6, and 9.

These indicators include resilience to disasters; substance abuse; road traffic accidents; equal access education; and the share of renewable energy.