Philippine Gov't Junks Controversial Orders

The Philippines government last month restored the National Information Technology Council (NITC) as the head of the country's IT efforts, junking three controversial executive orders that gave that role to the National Computer Center (NCC).

Executive Order (EO) No. 125, signed last month, reasserts the NITC's role as the government's highest planning and policy advisory body on IT matters. The new EO replaces EOs 34, 35 and 37, which many people in the IT industry opposed on the grounds that they concentrated too much power within the NCC. EO 125 clearly states, however, that the NCC will serve as the technical arm of the NITC.

The move to repeal the three earlier EOs also lifted the anxiety among local computer vendors and service providers, who said the orders were deterrents to IT growth.

Drafted by a multisectoral group and approved by the NITC, EO 125 brings the focus back to the targets of the National Information Technology Plan for the 21st Century or IT21, which the NITC and NCC should pursue together.

Officials from NITC and NCC immediately expressed support for the new EO and said they need to meet right away to thresh out their respective roles as mandated by the order. The Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines (ITFP), which groups all the presidents of IT organizations in the country, was effusive in welcoming EO 125.

"We can now move forward fast in our efforts to become a knowledge center in Asia," said ITPF president Augusto Lagman.

The Philippine Electronics and Telecommunications Federation (PETEF) also aired its support. Even NCC director general Ike Seneres, the most vocal supporter of EOs 34, 35, and 37, put a positive spin on the new replacement EO, saying it would strengthen the NCC's role in facilitating IT programs for the country.

"We will abide by it, the same way we abide by EOs 34, 35 and 37," said Seneres in a phone interview with Computerworld.

For one, NCC has been ordered to promulgate the necessary implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of EO 125 within three months from the date of issuance (July 19, 1999). The process will be done in consultation with appropriate bodies and organizations in government and the private sector.

Seneres told Computerworld he already met with his staff and urged them to help in the preparation of the IRR which he hopes will be ready in just two months. Seneres and his directors believe that EO 125 will even expand NCC's role by elevating it to the national level.

"We now have a significant and more defined role in IT21. Even before EO 125, we at NCC were already discussing how we should help in IT21 because we don't want to neglect the national (IT) need. I welcome EO 125 as an opportunity for us to help set the nation's IT plan." Seneres said.

"Before we only concentrated on government computerization," added Lorna Sales, NCC's director for infrastructure. "Now we are to provide technical support to the council, which makes our scope national. We view this as a positive development as it expands our responsibilities. We can do more things now. We are no longer just like a service bureau that looks at agencies' information systems plans (ISPs)."

Controversial provisions in EOs 34, 35 and 37 that made the industry howl in protest have finally been dissolved by EO 125.

First and foremost, under the new EO, national government agencies, government-owned and controlled corporations, state universities and colleges, local government units, and government financial institutions can conduct their respective IT-related prequalification, bid and award functions. Under EO 37, these functions had been passed to the NCC to handle.

The restructuring of NCC under EO 34, which also promoted the NCC chief to director general, will now take a different spin under EO 125. Modifications in the current organizational set-up will no longer be done solely by the NCC, but must be prepared by the NCC chief and submitted to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for approval.

IT advocates from the private sector and the NCC said this provision would help upgrade the organizational units in the NCC, with a net effect of increasing the salaries of NCC's deserving personnel.

For now, Seneres said the status quo would prevail. Therefore, recent changes brought about by the earlier EOs, such as the NCC's newly reorganized set-up and his rank (equivalent of a Cabinet undersecretary) would remain in place until EO 125 takes effect.

Dr. William Torres, president of the Philippine Internet Service Organization, and past NCC managing director, also pointed out that Seneres could retain the rank of undersecretary, provided the DBM and Civil Service Commission approves of it.

"Ever since I was head of the NCC, we've always wanted to elevate the position of the managing director for the sole reason that we wanted to have a voice and a better vantage point," said Torres. Torres added that industry people objected to EO 34 because it only provided for the upgrading of one position.

Another provision of EO 125 corrects EO 35, which directed the NCC to design and build a government information infrastructure. The new EO orders the NCC to merely facilitate its development and implementation as approved by the NITC and consistent with the RPWeb initiative.

Under EO 125, NCC will do everything in close coordination with NITC. Its other functions under the new EO include the periodic review of the IT21; promulgation of IT policies, programs and projects for economic and social development; research and development projects for the local IT and allied industries; development and promulgation of minimum standards and benchmarks for computerization in government; and review and approval of ISPs.

EO 125 also directs the NCC to provide, as requested or upon instructions of the President or the NITC, IT consulting and other related services to government agencies. Earlier, some private sector representatives had questioned the wisdom of using the NCC's bid management services, since this would give the center a major role in the prequalification, bid and awards committees (PBACs) of the individual government agencies.

But Tes Roberto, who heads this service at NCC, said they have not chaired an agency's PBAC to date. She also welcomed EO 125 because it eliminated the concerns that stemmed from EO 37.Seneres, however, said the agencies can still invite the NCC to help them in their PBAC requirements.

Among the agencies that sought the NCC's help in the bidding of their IT projects are the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

TESDA executive director Juan Sabulao said partnering with NCC in the bidding process for its IT project has not resulted in any delays. "We want to do this project clean and we want transparency in our bidding activities. That's why we are asking for NCC's guidance," he added. Sabulao said TESDA has not received any instruction from the NCC in relation to EO 125.

Meanwhile, head executive assistant Perry Dorojo of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) pointed out that they have not even had the chance to work based on EO 37.

"We have not submitted any formal proposals to the NCC that adhere to the requirement of the World Bank for this project. We are still in our early planning stage, and here's another EO. We're not sure about its impact, as we have not discussed this yet with the NCC."

Meanwhile, under the new EO 125, NCC is also tasked to set up sectoral and industry desks to work in tandem with the sectoral and industry task forces of the NITC. Seneres said he is still studying how to proceed with this new mandate, which will be implemented for the first time.

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