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An IT vision

ICT (information and communications technology) is one third of Taiwan’s GDP and 6 percent of the Philippines’. The world of tomorrow is ICT, not automotive manufacturing (robots from the IT world will do and are doing that, anyway). Line workers are becoming fewer and fewer; eventually there’ll be none. So I’m at a total loss as to why the President isn’t calling on Congress to pass the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) bill with the greatest of urgency, and putting all focus on the Philippines being an IT hub. A Silicon Valley of the East. It’s where the future lies.

And do a “Silicon Valley” and establish an IT City. I’d choose Clark. It’s got the infrastructure, it’s got the location, it’s got the land, it’s got the airport, and, not far away, seaport. Move universities—technical universities, not law schools—there. Move young people there. Give more incentives than you can possibly imagine. Make Clark (and don’t give it some politician’s name, keep history, and a name foreigners can pronounce) the center of the IT world. A world that is crashing down on us at astonishing speed—maglev trains at 603 kilometers per hour are nothing in comparison to the speed of IT growth.

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Taiwan was early in the game on the hardware side and became, for some time, the world’s leader. Its success was due to the government. In 1973 the government established the Industrial Technology Research Institute to develop the industry (our proposed DICT would be the equivalent). It started by bringing in US technology and focusing on one area of expertise, in its case manufacturing semiconductors. From there it went into PCs, then notebooks, and dominated the world’s markets—89 percent of the world’s notebooks, 46 percent of desktop PCs. Focus and full government support did it.

As has been said ad nauseam, there are one million young, well-educated and well-paid people enjoying the benefits of an IT world in the Philippines today. There can be 10 times that number if the Philippines plays its cards right. In IT you still need people; artificial intelligence won’t be taking over this sphere for a long time yet.

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But it needs visionaries, it needs young leaders. (I’d almost add into the proposed law that the secretary and undersecretaries of the DICT can’t be over 35. I’d definitely require that they have an IT background.)

As Sen. Ralph Recto said in his sponsorship speech for the DICT bill: “One ‘good side effect’ of creating a Department of Information and Communications Technology is that the present Department of Transportation and Communications will be streamlined into a Department of Transportation whose sole focus is fixing the nation’s transportation woes.”

He added: “ICT is putting people to work, taxes in government coffers, money in the economy, and hope in our country’s future… it is the third largest source of dollars, after electronics and OFW remittances… but to avail [ourselves] of these benefits, we need to address ICT infrastructure, ICT affordability, ICT usage, three benchmarks in which the Philippines ranks low.”

Indeed we do, and only a dedicated Cabinet-level department can do it. An agency or, worse, variety of agencies, as now, can’t do it.

Most products go by air, and Clark has the airport. And if they have to go by sea, Subic is just an expressway away. Taiwan produced at home in the early days, moved to cheaper China, but as China costs increase it is now looking elsewhere. And where else but here—if the government gets its act together. Filipinos have proven to be highly IT-adept. Take advantage of it, make the Philippines the center of Asia for IT, hard and soft. Develop programs here (no hackers, please), build the fancy products those programs will be installed in. Ship to the world. Get it to 30 percent of exports—an achievable number.

But the government has to start honoring its word (a subject I’ll be coming to in the coming weeks) if it wants developers and locators to make Clark an IT megapolis. But it must be one that is professionally designed, and strictly controlled. Look at how quickly (a scant 12 years) Bonifacio Global City has become an overdeveloped, chaotic nightmare-in-the-making through no design, no control. As a letter-writer (or was it a columnist?) recently said, you can’t see the sun anymore for the shoulder-to-shoulder high-rises.

Clark needs parks in which to meditate, or just relax, large parks that clean the air. That will give young geniuses the space to think. It needs a public transport system that gets students and workers from attractive home areas to sunny campuses and offices.

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ICT is a $3.5-trillion industry employing around 30 million people today. The range of products and software systems is growing ever faster. Someone has to design them, to produce them; someone has to be a leader, the leader. Yes, the Philippines can. But it will require a hell of a change in attitude from what we have today, and a determination I’ve yet to see.

We need youth to step forward; we old fogies can’t handle it, and shouldn’t. Put up a DICT, Mr. President, and repeat your excellent choices at the Commission on Elections and the Bureau of Customs. Put experts, put people with the knowledge, background and vision to make the Philippines not just No. 1 in call centers (a very limited, and soon to diminish, field as artificial intelligence starts to talk) but also a center of IT in the world in all its facets. That’s a real legacy to leave.

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TAGS: Clark, DICT, ICT, information and communications technology, IT, ralph recto, Silicon Valley
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