Concept News Central

Slowpoke

A recent report of research firm OpenSignal showed Metro Manila’s average 4G download and upload speeds have been ranked among the worst across 12 major cities in East Asia. Covering 12 major cities in East Asia, OpenSignal’s report showed Manila’s 4G download speed was 16.9 megabits per second (Mbps) or below the global average. Along with Manila in the bottom rank are Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Jakarta. On the other hand, the research firm said Seoul and Singapore “are in a class of their own,” with an average download speeds greater than 45 Mbps. So, what else is new? In May last year, Akamai Technologies said global average connection speed “increased 2.3 percent quarter-over-quarter to 7.2 Mbps, a 15 percent increase compared with one year prior.” However, the Philippines falls short of the global average, with an average connection speed of just 5.5 Mbps. When he arrived here last year, Alibaba founder, billionaire Jack Ma, said he tried to test the Internet speed here and it’s “no good.” Given this sorry situation, the government must waste no time in providing Filipinos with improved Internet speeds and lower costs. Internet is not only for entertainment or leisure — it is increasingly becoming important in commerce and government transactions as well. To put this in perspective, the Statistics Portal showed in 2017, retail e-commerce sales worldwide amounted to $2.3 trillion and e-retail revenues are projected to grow to $4.88 trillion in 2021. The top 3 online stores’ revenue amounted to almost $100 billion in 2017. But there seems to be some progress being made. Just recently, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) decided on the terms of reference in selecting a new major telco player. The DICT chose the parameter of highest committed level of service rather than a mere auction. That appears to be the better choice as reports said 11 or 75 percent of the 15 interested telcos favored the chosen terms of reference. Last month, the DICT, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and the National Transmission Corp. (TransCo) signed the memorandum of agreement (MoA) to start the national broadband project which aims to provide high-speed public wi-fi for Filipinos. Under the MoA, the government is allowed free use of their “dark fiber” or 6,000 kilometers of fiber-optic with the national grid. No less than President Duterte himself has expressed frustration over slow Internet speeds. It’s up to the DICT now to speed up the selection of the third major telco player that would hopefully spur competition and result to better Internet speeds. Likewise, it must proceed full speed with the implementation of the National Broadband Project. A faster and cheaper Internet would open up business and development opportunities in the country and help us catch up with our neighbors, who are continuously ramping up their infrastructure for faster connection speeds. Let’s get real and get the job done. It’s only in the fables where the turtle overtakes the hare.

Keeping private data private

In the social media age, many of us often overlook the need to draw the line on certain information. Private data, the ones that sites like Facebook culls from users to be able to use the app, can be breached. And these data may be used against a person. Data protection in the electronic age is very critical because whether simply opening an email account or purchasing something online, people are asked to provide information about themselves. Many of us set our privacy settings in such a way to filter those who can and cannot see our social media posts or to guard against “spam” or unwanted emails. On Facebook, unless you’re a celebrity or an organization courting views from the public, it’s foolish to set your privacy setting to “public” in which anyone can see your posts. Many crimes have been committed – like simple burglaries – because of very public posts that announced to the entire world and even to dubious “friends” and “followers” that you’re on vacation and that your house was free to be ransacked. And we are not even talking about identity theft. The examples on how information we freely share online can be used against us go on and on. How many fake FB, Instagram and Twitter Accounts had been created using photos downloaded online? Keeping private data private is, thus, very important as counter-measures against identity theft, financial scammers and online hooligans, bullies and stalkers. Weeks ago, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go said President Rodrigo Duterte was committed to enforcing Republic Act 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012. Sure enough, Duterte signed last July 3 Proclamation Order 527 designating the last week of May as National Data Privacy Awareness Week. All government agencies, as well as state universities and colleges, were required by the President to help inform people about safeguarding their private data. Prior to the passage of the Data Privacy Act of 2012, companies, especially inter-related ones, were free to share their customers’ data. So, it came as no surprise to receive calls from car dealers, who did not only get your number from a “friendly bank” but also got to know your financial capability to buy. With the 2012 law, companies can no longer freely share customer data base, mailing lists and other information shared to them by clients. They are required to have data protection officers to ensure compliance with the law. The Data Privacy Commission, in fact, has been sending personnel to companies to see how they handle customers’ data and if they’re in accordance with the Data Privacy Act. In the end, we are still in the best position to safeguard the privacy of our data. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge about keeping the security of our data. Transact only – especially online – with established companies and organizations and be aware of the many tricks used by scammers to steal information from you. Always remember that going online carries with it inherent risks on your private data being stolen. So be very, very careful because even the government – armed with the Data Protection Act of 2012 – can only do so much. As millennials say, “TMI (too much information)” – if you’re not careful, it can bring you harm.

Drive it home

As the proposal to have a federal form of government shifts into high gear following the approval of the proposed federal charter by the Constitutional Commission (ConCom), concerned state offices and agencies would do well to intensify their nationwide information dissemination campaign. To the government belongs the task of explaining to the public the effects of having a federal government replacing the presidential system that’s been with us since time immemorial. After all, a recent Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showed only 25 percent of Filipinos, now numbering more than 100 million, are aware of the federal system of government being pushed by the Duterte administration. This was also the concern aired by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque as he acknowledged that with the low number of Filipinos who are aware of the federal system, the information drive that has been done so far was very deficient. Roque encouraged government to take the necessary steps to ensure everyone will have a clear idea on how a federal system of government works and the benefits it can bring to Filipinos by balancing economic development across the country’s regions. “Everyone in government should exert more effort in popularizing… the need to shift to a federal form of government, its advantages to the people and its effect on everyday lives of the common people,” Roque said. The shift to the federal system of government is the cornerstone of the administration of Duterte as his promised inclusive growth was pegged on the premise that a Manila-centrist government such as the present one deprives other regions of needed support and attention. The President, along with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, has been saying federalism can be expected to spur development in the countryside, where majority of the poor, mostly farmers, fishermen and laborers, work and live. Duterte also expressed the belief federalism would address the decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao which has claimed the lives of thousands of Muslims and Christians alike. Under the ConCom’s proposal, the federal government will effect a “distribution” of state powers traditionally concentrated in the central government, noting the proposed federal Constitution envisions a “permanent and indissoluble nation” with guarantees against separation or secession. It also has the provision the Federal Republic will be composed of 18 constituent political units called federated regions, including the previously dissolved Negros Region, the Bangsamoro and the Cordilleras. It also suggested reforms in the political system through prohibitions on political dynasties up to the second degree of consanguinity or affinity, party-switching and the institution of the people’s power to enact or repeal laws, among other things. It also spelled out the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the maritime expanse beyond the country’s territorial sea “to the extent reserved to it by international law.” The draft charter likewise “strengthens” the Bill of Rights through the inclusion of socioeconomic and environmental and ecological rights and revamps the existing constitutional commissions on audit, civil service and elections, the Office of the Ombudsman, and added the Commission on Human Rights. We believe rewriting the 1987 Constitution hinges on the greater consideration that amendments should benefit the Filipino people, notably the poor. This is why concerned government offices and agencies must work in unison to ensure that the people are aware of their many benefits under a federal system of government. After all, the people cannot vote in favor of federalism if they have little clue as to what benefits they can derive from it.

Cars for cops

Police mobility is highly essential in crime fighting. If a police patrol car is slow, cops cannot respond quickly to, say, a robbery in progress somewhere. By the time policemen reach the crime scene, robbers may have already absconded. Robbers with a faster getaway vehicle may outrun cops in hot pursuit if the latter’s car breaks down frequently or is hard to maneuver. And it would be a great shame to policemen who arrive late in a hostage situation as lives are at stake. Law enforcers with smoke-belching cars would not only be farcical, but also subject to complaints. And what if a patrol car were hard to maintain or repair due to lack of spare parts? It would be a derelict that renders the police force less potent. It is upsetting to know that more than 2,000 patrol cars of the Philippine National Police (PNP), purchased for nearly P2 billion in 2015 from an Indian manufacturer, are ridden with precisely those issues mentioned above, aside from allegedly being gas guzzlers. The Commission on Audit report was based on the feedback of police officers who had used the Mahindra Enforcer and Scorpio patrol cars. The supplier had defended itself from questions on why it won the bidding, such as being a company that is 60 percent owned by Filipinos; being the only distributor among the bidders that were mostly car dealers; having a local factory that makes the bodies for the Enforcer; and for complying with changes in engine specification and bidding requirements. But the question remains: Why were the vehicles bought allegedly without having undergone an operational needs assessment? This compromises the PNP’s Capability Enhancement Program (CEP), a police equipment and asset acquisition and upgrading plan. Another question that needs an answer is why no performance evaluation was made on the initially purchased 1,656 patrol vehicles before they were bought and the additional units that have reportedly left 206 cars underutilized. Because of the Mahindra patrol cars’ frequent breakdowns, the PNP has had to spend P59.37 million for repair services. That amount could have been used for buying patrol jeeps. While the latest PNP pronouncement that it would no longer buy Mahindra patrol cars because of its experience with the Enforcer and Scorpio is a prudent decision, Sen. Grace Poe is seeking the accountability of PNP officials behind the contracts. The issues about the Mahindra patrol cars revolve around the disadvantages or deficiencies of the units. How these have adversely affected police operations and service is unclear, yet any impact of said vehicles on public safety and the protection of life and property deserves scrutiny. There is a good reason why the police force’s patrol fleet should be the best quality. The public deserves the utmost protection and fastest response in matters of life and death. Concept News Central

Extra rice, anyone?

The prices of rice increased for the 24th straight week on the third week of June, with the average for the well-milled variety pegged at P41.46 per kilogram, according to data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). That average is 0.22 percent higher than prices seen on the second week of June and 6.86 percent higher from the previous year’s price of P38.80 per kilo during the same period. “Faster rates of price increases are noted at wholesale and retail trades of well-milled rice,” the PSA said, which adding farmgate price of palay averaged P21.36/kg., up by 0.56 percent from the previous week’s P21.24/kg. But the entry of 172,000 metric tons of imported rice last June 28 through a government-to-government tender by the National Food Authority (NFA) should result in rice prices dropping soon with more NFA rice being available on retail from P27 to P32 per kilo. Clearly, the challenge for government is to fast-track the delivery of the imported rice to all four corners of the archipelago. Of the 172,000 metric tons, 132,000 MT are still at ports while 37,444 MT are now at designated NFA warehouses. The sooner the 172,000 MT of rice are offloaded and sent off from the NFA warehouses the better. That is if the government is to stop the price increases brought about by a depressed supply of the staple grain on the market. In all, the total tender is for 250,000 metric tons with the remainder still to be shipped to our shores. That’s just for the short term, though, because to really bring down the prices of rice in the country, a number of things must happen. First, we must achieve 100 percent rice supply sufficiency either by allocating more farmlands or increasing yield per hectare through an aggressive, government-aided program. During the 70s, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, Laguna served as the center of all scientific studies regarding increasing rice yield. Our Southeast Asian neighbors like Thailand are now net exporters of rice, largely because they sent people to IRRI during the Masagana 99 days of the Marcoses to extract every available knowledge on increasing palay yield resistant to pests and drought. We’ve been the leader in rice research before and there’s no reason why our farmers, with the government providing the seedling, fertilizer and other subsidies, could not replicate past rice production successes. Second, the cost of harvesting and milling rice, as well as its storage and transport must be brought down with government and private sector support. Third, government must step in to stop the unconscionable profiteering of some rice traders who buy palay at nearly below cost of production and then laugh all the way to the bank with huge profit spreads. Here we just have to compare the farmgate price of palay at P21.36/kg. and the retail price of P41.46/kg. of rice to know some middlemen are making a killing at the expense of farmers and rice consumers, all 106 million of us Filipinos. If NFA rice can retail at P27 per kilo, why can’t we slash down the profit of the middlemen? Farmgate prices should be raised though, because we must encourage more Filipinos to farm by making it profitable for them and not just the middlemen. As it is, the average age of Filipino farmers is 57 years old and many of their children, according to government surveys, are not inclined to follow their footsteps. With the aforementioned rice scenario, would you care for an extra serving of rice?

Collective jubilation

People all over the world must have shared the jubilation and feeling of relief the parents and relatives of 13 missing members of a soccer team in Thailand. That is following the announcement that rescuers have reached their location and that all of them are safe. Together with their coach in the Wild Boar Soccer team the 12 boys, aged between 11 and 16 years old, the Tham Luang Nan Non cave system on June 23 but were apparently trapped when a sudden downpour flooded the chambers of the cave. Concern for their safety was raised when they did not return home as expected. Initial search found a pair of soccer shoes and bike. Amid the threat of a continuing downpour, the Thai rescuers worked round the clock to locate the missing children. The saga of the Thai soccer team eventually attracted international attention and after several days of fruitless search, international assistance came one after another. A team from the US military’s Pacific Command and expert British cavers and divers arrived on the scene on June 27. Six Chinese experts came next on June 29 while the six-man team sent by Australia arrived the next day. The international cooperation paid off. On July 2, after nine days of agonizing search, the rescuers announced the boys and their coach were found around two kilometers (1.24 miles) into the cave and somewhere between 800 meters and one kilometer below the surface. Despite this, the danger is not over yet. The 13-member soccer team is still trapped as the passage out of the cavern is still flooded. In the meantime, the rescuers intend to bring them food and water as well as a nurse and a doctor to look after them. Elated by the news the 13 missing persons were found alive and safe, Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, said the incident has shown the unity of the Thai people. It was perfectly understandable. But it was a lot more than just one nation’s show of unity. It was another sobering reminder as to how such an emergency, or a disaster, can unite people and nations, despite their differences – no politics, no national interest to think of, just pure desire to help each other save lives. The last phase of the operation to save the 13 trapped persons may prove to be the most difficult. Rescuers are trying to pump the water out of the flooded passage ways in a bid to make a safe exit. But if such effort proves futile, the boys and their coach may have to dive out of the cave to finally reach safety. Preparations are now being made to teach the trapped boys to dive. However, it would not be any ordinary dive. It would be in muddy waters, that would deprive anybody of any sense of direction. It’s a situation that could prove disastrous even for an experienced cave diver. Amid this danger, the Thai people can be sure the rest of the world are united with them in the hope of bringing back the children and their coach safely back in the arms of their waiting families. Undoubtedly, even people of different faiths must be whispering their prayers for the safety of the 13-member team now enduring isolation in the dark cold bowels of a cave in Thailand.

Technology: The equalizer

Last week marked another milestone in Filipino technological achievement with the launch into space of Maya-1, the country’s first cube satellite, for delivery to the International Space Station prior to its scheduled launch into orbit in August this year. Developed by Filipinos Joven Javier and Adrinan Sales at the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan, the Maya-1 satellite is a research tool in space, mainly to log data corruption caused by space radiation. The first satellite designed and built by Filipinos, Diwata-1, was launched in 2016. The launch of Maya-1 becomes doubly significant coming as it is on the heels of President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing into law of the “Balik-Scientist” program, meant to entice Filipino scientists working abroad to go back and help in our country’s bid to catch up with our more advanced neighbors. It was more than just an incentive. It was a policy shift in recognition that science and technology is an equalizer. History is replete with examples of the crucial role of technology in development. On its knees after its devastating defeat in World War II, Japan managed to reverse its fortunes to emerge as an economic power and technological innovator. Israel’s stunning victory in the historic 6-day War was largely attributed to its air superiority, with the help of French-made Mirage fighter planes tweaked by Israeli scientists and engineers. Technology also played a large part in China’s rise into an economic powerhouse and a world power. There were actually road maps in the past to make our country a force to reckon with in technology but it seems we got lost along the way. For example, as early as in the 1960s we already had our own nuclear reactor for research purposes. In the 70s we started leasing satellites but managed to operate our own only in 1994. In 1972, Navy brass and Filipino scientists developed our own liquid-propellant rocket under Project Sta Barbara, with a range of 25-50 kilometers, but was scrapped under the Cory Aquino administration. The Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation, established in 1973, had developed its prototypes for a light plane and helicopter but both projects were abandoned later for lack of funds. While the “Balik-Scientist” law is laudable, it may not be sufficient to achieve our long-term goal of harnessing science and technology not only for development but to protect our country’s national interests. During the hearing on the Balik-Scientist bill, it was revealed also we have only 189 scientists per million, when the ideal ratio is 380 scientists per million. On the other hand, South Korea and the United States, have 5,300 and 3,500 scientists per million, respectively. Malaysia, for its part, has 2,000 scientists per million. Data from the Commission on Higher Education also show as of 2016 only 39 percent out of the country’s college students were enrolled in STEAM ((Science, Technology, Engineering, Agri-Fisheries, Mathematics) courses; the rest or 61 percent were in non-STEAM courses. To attain the vision of the Philippines as a technological force, the government must devise a system of incentives not only for scientists but also for inventors, technology innovators, as well as promising technology startups. But if the government is serious in awakening the potential of Filipinos in science and technology, the drive must start from the time a child enters school. An intensive and coordinated program is needed to make Science and Mathematics the most interesting among the numerous subjects the students have to take. Likewise, such campaign must utilize traditional and social media to drive youth interest in science and technology. We are looking forward to a time when children, who are asked what they would like to be when they grow up would reply, “I want to be a scientist.”

TIP top shape

The government deserves recognition for its sustained efforts to keep the Philippines among the top countries in the world with respect to fighting human trafficking, as reflected in the 2018 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report of the US State Department. The Philippines, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan were the only countries in East Asia and the Pacific to be awarded Tier 1 status. Since 2016, the Philippines has been in Tier 1 on the TIP list. From 2011 to 2015, the country was in Tier 2. Tier 1 means full compliance with the US Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. On the other hand, Tier 2 means no full compliance but making significant efforts to comply. Tier 2 Watchlist means no full compliance and absolute number of victims increasing while Tier 3 means no full compliance and no significant efforts to comply. Among other things, the report noted the Philippine government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts against human traffickers. It noted the government has “effectively” coordinated identification, referral and provision of services to more victims and has increased efforts to help Filipino migrant workers that are victims of trafficking abroad. Likewise, the 2018 US report also cited the efforts of the Philippines to reduce the backlog of trafficking cases in the courts. The report is a reason for jubilation not because we are complying with what the US wants; rather, it’s a cause for celebration because our government strives harder to protect our citizens. However, while the country is at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, there remains some serious concerns, particularly forced labor and sex trafficking of men, women and children. The report pointed out “young Filipino girls and boys are increasingly induced to perform sex acts for live Internet broadcast to paying foreigners in other countries; this typically occurs in private residences or small Internet cafes, and may be facilitated by victims’ family members and neighbors.” But with the faster rollout of infrastructure under the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program, more and better-paying jobs are also expected to become available. This would provide laborers a better choice than exploitative situations and protect women who are being lured into prostitution because they have no other options available. It is also welcome to note our authorities are steadfast in their efforts to go against those who are exploiting minors for online sex shows, as indicated by the recent arrests that included parents and relatives of the victims. The trend is obvious: online sex trade is growing with the inexorable march of technology. It is, thus, imperative for our authorities not only to keep pace with technological developments and strengthen coordination with their counterparts abroad, but also to intensify the crackdown on child exploitation. They should always keep in mind the saying: “Success is like a sword. You can do everything with it, except sit on it.” The key to victory against the abhorrent practice of human trafficking, then, is sustained effort. If we do this, our country would always be in TIP top shape.

Fast-tracking development

As President Rodrigo Duterte’s term enters its third year today, the nation shifts its focus to the ambitious Build, Build, Build (BBB) program, with many of the projects still on the drawing board. The Duterte administration aims to undertake projects in the next four years when the government intends to spend at least $100 billion for roads, ports, railways, flood control facilities, airports, energy facilities and irrigation systems. But with time almost running out, the President wants to fast-track the implementation of the government’s infrastructure program which also aims to generate at least 2 million jobs by 2022. In a speech in Davao, Duterte lamented that projects – especially in the provinces -- are barely progressing unlike in Metro Manila. Thus, he wanted projects in ARMM and two other regions to step up. “The President is never contented. He wants it fast and he wants the Build, Build, Build projects in the provinces implemented faster,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing in Davao City. And while some of the projects are still awaiting fruition, millions of jobless and underemployed Pinoys still continue to pin their hopes on the BBB program. The unprecedented infrastructure campaign of the government is seen to create an average of 1.1 million jobs annually, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), as the massive spending is being financed in part by proceeds of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law. NEDA chief and Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia is also urging government offices to coordinate with various industries to properly identify the appropriate skills for construction-related activities for job matching. The reality is many Filipinos want the government and the private sector to create more well-paying local jobs and to stop depending on the manpower export industry. Local jobs must offer competitive pay if the best Filipino workers, including our most experienced nurses, medical doctors, engineers and teachers, will be lured to work in the Philippines instead of looking for greener pastures overseas. With a robust economy as evidenced by gross domestic product figures hovering around six percent, the Philippines is certainly in the right direction insofar as industrialization is concerned. Another factor is the pledges made by countries like China which has so far given $307.41 million in soft loans and grants for two of the 75 flagship projects. The major projects will require a combined $36 billion in investments this year. The Chinese provided loans for the $234.92-million Kaliwa Dam project and the $72.49-million Chico River Pump Irrigation Facility project. Earlier this year, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the government had secured $7.3 billion in pledges from Beijing for 10 flagship projects. That being said, the much needed infrastructure will make the economy self-sustaining and not end up again into a boom and bust cycle.
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