STATEMENT OF THE PHILIPPINES
59th Session of the Commission for Social Development (Virtual Meeting)
Theme: “Socially just transition towards sustainable development: the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all”
11 February 2021
HON. ROSEMARIE G. EDILLON
Undersecretary for Policy and Planning
National Economic and Development Authority
Chair, Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, all protocols observed as I greet you good morning from the Philippines.
That I am able to address you today, from the Philippines, amid the COVID19 pandemic is testament to the important role of digital technology. And such innovation should be shared, in keeping with our commitment to prosperity but sustainable development and inclusivity: Leave no one behind.
The COVID19 pandemic has radically changed the way we live. Work and learning environments had to be transformed, mainly because there cannot be many people inside a closed space. And we had to rely on digital technology, whenever and wherever possible.
A study conducted by the World Bank in the Philippines entitled “Philippines Digital Economy Report 2020 : A Better Normal Under COVID-19 – Digitalizing the Philippine Economy Now”, observes that “the use of digital technologies such as digital payments, e-commerce, telemedicine, and online education, is rising in the Philippines and has helped individuals, businesses, and the government cope with social distancing measures, ensure business continuity, and deliver public services during the pandemic.”
The new challenge now is to expand the adoption of digital technology. The same WB study suggests how this can be done:
- Governments should lead as examples
A number of business to government, public to government transactions and vice-versa have been migrated to online platforms. Initially, it was a way of ensuring service continuity amid the pandemic. Later on, other advantages became apparent; not the least of which is to avoid having crowds and long queues in government offices. Technology was also employed in the delivery of services, like in the delivery of health care. Led by the Department of Health (DOH), telemedicine has been promoted to alleviate the surge and minimize the risks posed by unnecessary traffic in hospitals. Hotlines and websites were set up and private service providers were tapped to extend free medical consultation services. Telemedicine is also seen as an enabler for patient referral systems.
- Provide the enabling environment
The massive rollout of digital infrastructure, ensuring its quality and affordability require more than just the availability of finance. In the case of the Philippines, this was primarily hindered by the lack of market competition among service providers, as well as policies that hinder the fast rollout of new infrastructures and investments. These are urgently being addressed and along with ensuring a business climate that is conducive to investments, innovation and competition.
- Democratize access
The digital divide is real and has been amplified by the pandemic. We have seen that while everyone had to bear the adverse consequences of COVID19, some were less able to protect themselves against its ill-health effects. Some were at greater risk of infection because their work could not be done remotely. Others had to stop working altogether, because their customer base is in high-interaction environments. Distance learning has become the primary mode of delivering instructions, but others could not attend classes. In fact, resilience depended on access and ability to use digital technology.
In the Philippines, government has been accelerating the implementation of the National Broadband Plan. It aims to lay the backbone of connectivity network across the country through the deployment of fiber optic cables and wireless technologies, thereby, improving Internet speed and affordability. This will also enable more public spaces with free Wi-Fi access.
Equally important are the hardware and software to complement the infrastructure. And here is where we call on developed countries and tech companies to make apps, software and especially learning apps widely available and accessible. These should cover a wide spectrum, from content-heavy subjects to technology and vocational education. Currently, we pay a steep subscription fee for these learning apps, and therefore, access has been limited.
Finally, we also need to develop the necessary human capital that can build on digital technology. And this brings me back to our plea to making the necessary hardware and software affordable and accessible. Let us increase the pool of thinkers, scientists and, especially, innovators as we need to always come up with solutions to new problems.
We firmly believe that we can work together so that digital technology can be a catalyst towards strengthening the ties within and among our nations, and finally bring us towards recovery, resiliency, and sustainability to realize not just a “new”, but a “better normal” for all.
Ministerial Forum on “Promoting multilateralism to realize inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development and its social dimensions”
59th Session of the Commission for Social Development (Virtual Meeting)
9 February 2021
ROSEMARIE G. EDILLON
Undersecretary for National Development Policy and Planning
Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, good morning from the Philippines.
In attending this virtual meeting, we are reminded of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our lives. Indeed, we live in a VUCA world. We knew this from way back, yet this pandemic has shown just how unprepared we were to this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous situation.
Engaging stakeholders, Building coalitions
On the other hand, this experience has shown how we can navigate through a VUCA world. In the Philippines, we have adopted a whole-of society approach, even going beyond our borders, early on.
The World Health Organization helped us to better understand the dynamics of COVID19 transmission and how we could protect our citizens from its lethal effects. We even reached out to development planners from our neighboring countries to find out how they are coping with the crisis.
We had to enlist the cooperation of everyone as we restricted mobility, social and economic activities, and observe public health measures. National and local governments provided financial assistance, wage subsidies and regulatory relief to families, workers and small businesses. We engaged the academe, and research institutions to provide timely information through data analytics on the COVID19 epidemiology and the impact of the quarantine restrictions. We have called on the business sector to catalyze investments towards healthcare, COVID-proofing of establishments, safe transportation, and digital transformation. Currently, we are building partnerships for vaccine procurement and the necessary logistics and facilities in preparation for COVID-19 immunization.
Equally important is the role of multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to help finance various initiatives – from increasing PPE supply, procuring test kits, and supporting adversely affected families. And at this critical phase, we laud the WHO and the European Commission for its support to the Philippines and other countries through the COVAX facility. The facility has brought together governments, global organizations, manufacturers, scientists, private sector, and philanthropists in order to provide equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
The next big challenge is for multilateralism to work towards building the resilience of every individual, in every family and in every country.
The pandemic has resulted in tremendous social and economic costs for everyone. But we have also seen the great inequality in the extent to which some peoples are able to protect themselves from the ill-health effects of COVID19. Some were at greater risk of infection because their work could not be done remotely. Others had to stop working altogether, because their customer base is in high-interaction environments. Distance learning has become the primary mode of delivering instructions, but others did not have access to the necessary digital technology and therefore could not attend classes.
As we begin the 10-year countdown to 2030, we face the grim reality that the COVID19 pandemic has resulted in a major setback. We may not achieve the goals we have set as a community of nations, unless we all re-commit to making multilateralism and partnerships work. We need to re-affirm our resolve to leave no one behind, beginning with ensuring equity in access to vaccines and medicines. Being a globalized world, the health and well-being of everyone depends on everyone else. We also need to improve access to information, knowledge, technology and development finance. And finally, we need to harness all our creative and innovative minds to recover from this crisis and build resilience going forward.
We should, as one humanity, embrace this challenge of a VUCA world.