If Filipinos are active online—and we are indeed among the most active on this globally—then the Philippine government ought to be, too. Thankfully (and perhaps surprisingly for some), it is. One online site that has become quite active lately is the Presidential Communications (Government of the Philippines) Facebook page, one of the government’s online tools for disseminating information, messages, and official announcements. The government’s official online presence is mainly via www.gov.ph, the Official Gazette and the web portal of the Philippines’ e-government. This is operated, maintained, and administered by the iGovPhil (i.gov.ph) Project under the former Information and Communication Technology Office, now the Department of ICT.
Covered by iGovPhil are national government agencies, government financial institutions, and government corporations, as well as interagency bodies, programs and projects, now all hosted under the Government Web Hosting Service. Its benefits include ensuring the security of the websites and protecting the integrity of the information therein, creating a uniform corporate look and feel across the different agencies, and having online payment systems and archives that can be accessed by the general public. While not part of iGovPhil, other constitutional bodies, local government units, and the other branches of government outside the executive branch, have their own means of establishing online presence.
Businesses have long known that having a well-maintained online presence means better business. They have easier access to their customers, hence can provide better services; and services can be done online, adding to consumer convenience. The past few years have seen dramatic growth of e-commerce with the convenience it offers, and often-cheaper products due to reduced overhead costs. The same benefits can be gained from e-government.
Among others, Pagasa (the weather bureau) and Phivolcs (the volcanology institute) can deliver timely information through their websites, critical not only for disaster preparedness and relief, but also in aid of research. As their official medium, their websites ensure that the information is from a reliable official source. Presidential decrees and issuances are available through the Official Gazette portal. Laws, bills and other legislative documents are easy to access from senate.gov.ph. The website of each national government agency has a Transparency Seal section where procurement plans, performance reports, and other relevant documents that detail the activities of the agency are easily accessed and viewed.
The eServices page of the Official Gazette links to the pages of the National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Foreign Affairs, e-Census and other government service agencies that provide online services, at least partially. An example of a fully online service is the e-Census, a pioneer in online public services, where a certified birth certificate can be acquired without any legwork. Appointments can be set online for passport renewal at the DFA, and forms for an NBI clearance can be filled out at home, streamlining the application process and decongesting the offices.
Moving further, initiatives are underway to ease access to information and transactions that involve multiple government agencies. The Philippine National Trade Repository (PNTR) provides an online platform to access all the information a trader would need on government requirements for import and export transactions, including import tariff rates and various regulatory requirements. Spearheaded by the Bureau of Import Services of the Department of Trade and Industry, the PNTR involves dozens of trade regulatory government agencies (TRGAs) apart from the Bureau of Customs. Pushing yet a step further, the Department of Finance is spearheading an initiative called the Inter-Agency Business Process Interoperability (IABPI), within the iGovPhil system. Among other things, the IABPI will make it possible to clear and pay for import transactions with Customs and other TRGAs requiring specific import permits or clearances, in a “one-stop shop” platform that will eliminate legwork, paperwork and face-to-face contact, thereby also helping curb corruption. The key is to get all the concerned agencies to cooperate and buy into the system, a big challenge given substantial “informal incomes” that corrupt elements in the system stand to lose. One hopes that our current strong and decisive leadership will ensure that this long-needed change is indeed coming.
Unfortunately, local government units have yet to become part of iGovPhil. Very few LGU websites are well maintained. While a key feature of e-government websites is online directories to make it easier to communicate with the different key persons in various agencies, many LGU websites have outdated directories, if they have one at all. One LGU website has an updated directory, but instead of phone numbers of key offices, it simply gives the floors where the offices are to be found. This probably stems from the notion that LGU websites cater simply to their local constituents, missing the fact that websites provide access to everyone, including outside tourists and investors—and the attendant benefits they could provide to the LGUs.
Websites are no longer a novelty; they are the norm. A well-functioning e-government, interconnected and streamlined all the way to the local level, will improve services, reduce costs, and put government within reach of every Filipino, while allowing them to reap the benefits of a more competitive economy.
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