Vigilance is Key to E-Commerce Growth

Eversince the Internet in the Philippines came about 6 years ago, a lot of people have spotted immediately on how it can play a role in changing the lives of society in general, including government.

In the past three years, it was able to demonstrate its power when issues such as phone metering, Y2K, and the recently passed Electronic Commerce Law (RA8792) was heavily influenced by the online Filipino community.

I started an organization back in 1997, the Philippine Internet Commerce Society. The White House Global Framework for E-Commerce white paper inspired it. It explicitly stated that for e-commerce to prosper in one country, the private sector must take the lead. At that time, e-commerce is very much far fetch for most of us. There were a lot of issues then that needs to be resolved such as enabling small merchants to accept credit card payments online to high Internet and telecommunication access cost.

A common complaint then since the early 90’s is the lack of Philippine legislation that legally recognizes electronic documents as evidence. What further inspired and challenged us to take an active role is when former DOST Secretary William Padolina said during a panel discussion last Internet Commerce Expo 1998. He was asked by one of the audience as to what the DOST and government is doing, especially legislation, to recognize the necessary laws that will allow the country to play in the arena of e-commerce. Firmly, he replied, “You can’t expect the DOST Secretary to do everything for you. If you can not go to Congress, talk to the legislators and explain why you need this law, then you deserve all existing laws that you have right now.” For me, what he said hit me straight in the heart.

Since then, we’ve been very aggressive to our cause where some of us sacrificed our personal interest to push for it. With God’s grace, we succeeded.

In the course of our lobbying and promotional activities, we appreciated the due process that Congress does to pass a law. We were heard fairly on issues on Y2K that lead to the repeal of Executive Order No. 9 which mandates all Y2K remediation of government to be subcontracted to Technology Livelihood Resource Center and elevate the Y2K Contingency Plan to the National Security Council. Afterwards, RA8792 has just been passed last June 14, 2000. What made this law unique is that its Implementing Rules and Regulations were crafted in less than three weeks. It was done in Internet time with the private sector working closely with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

For the first time, we realized that there are a lot of good people in government. What we hear and read as far as corruption is concern, are not entirely true or applies to all.

Internet and e-commerce is very much special to the generation of today. It is the biggest equalizer. The Internet is ageless, borderless, and genderless and has put everyone in an equal playing field. It empowered its users and gave everyone an equal voice.

A case in point. Who will forget the Internet group, Philippine League for Democratic Telecommunications Inc., who put the entire phone metering scheme on hold till now.

RA 8792 is a very special law that can spell the difference and pave way for a brighter future to the generations to come. It mandates government to embrace e-commerce in two years time, implement policies that will lead to reduction of telecommunication and Internet cost, and most of all provide transparency in governance where private sector must be involved in drafting policies related to its implementation.

There’s a digital opportunity present now, rather than referring to as a digital divide. But in order for e-commerce to benefit all Filipinos, the private sector must work harder to deserve these changes and have its benefits reach the grassroots level.

Whenever I get invited in speaking engagements to talk about e-commerce, I’ve always encountered pessimism as far as e-commerce will improve governance. I will always hear a comment that it can’t be done. There are a lot of people benefiting from the red tape of existing process who will do whatever it can, even sabotage it, just to stop it from affecting them.

But what these people are forgetting is this new economy is a different battlefield. Instead of taking our issues to the streets, rally and bring poster cards of protest, we ventilate our issues online and ensure that the people concern reading us. It is a different arena. The battle of good versus evil is exposed to a wider audience. It is global.

If the private sector will join together and fight for these changes, we will make it despite all odds. We’re not doing this for those who are in the helm of these agencies. We’re doing this for us and the generations to come. We want to see our children having better lives and affordable access to resources.

With the passage of RA8792, a lot of people ask us where do we go from here. I would like to enumerate issues that needs to be addressed for e-commerce to prosper in this country. To the non-government organization groups who are reading this, I hope you will join us in our cause.

We must ensure that government investment on e-commerce projects will be used wisely and have those who misused and abused it be held responsible for it. The last thing that we want is to see IT and e-commerce projects to be a source of graft and corruption.

The private sector and Congressional Oversight Committee on E-Commerce must monitor the Bureau of Customs e-commerce project, specifically the Super Green Lane. Last year, we exposed an issue on how their EDI project is being neglected that even triggered a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee resolution by Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr.

This project has been dragging for quite some time now. Its objective is to fast track the processing of Customs transaction and make us competitive in the import and export market. But what is happening is that the current leaders of BOC are taking actions and policies that are doing otherwise. We must realize that no matter what we do to make e-commerce prosper, shipping, logistics, transportation of goods will play a major role for us to be competitive in the arena of global trade. We know that there are a lot of people who benefit from the red tape economy inside BOC. But the question there is, whose interest are we supposed to protect? If the BOC doesn’t shape up, it will put the fate of e-commerce in the Philippines in doubt.

Our banking policies need to be improved further. Please note that ATM transactions are covered by RA8792. A lot of us have experienced withdrawing money from ATMs and no money was dispensed. Worst, our account is even being debited. When we complaint to the bank, we will be advised to wait for two weeks to one month before the money can be returned back to us. This is no longer acceptable in this day and age. E-commerce must also protect our consumers and not allow it to abuse us.

Telecommunication facilities must be interconnected and its cost is transparent to consumers. It is in the best interest of local government units to ensure that telecommunication facilities including cable must be widely accessible, fostering a competitive spirit, in their respective districts. They must stop favoring certain players that will be detrimental to the growth of e-commerce and Internet in their area.

Yes, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done for us to realize the benefits of e-commerce and Internet in our country. But if we want to deserve these changes, we have to work hard and fight for it. It is the only way.

For the growth of e-commerce in the Philippines, let us not allow anything or anyone to stand on its way!

Janette Toral is an e-commerce advocate in the Philippines. She is the site owner of DigitalFilipino.com.

Janette Toral – who has written posts on DigitalFilipino: E-Commerce in the Philippines.


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