Mr. Duterte is a thinking man, don’t ever doubt that for a moment. His big picture is a daring country that will steer clear of the orthodoxies such as blind allegiance to globalism and the established trading order, plus –we have not heard this in a long, long while – an attempt to resurrect the manufacturing sector.
He has adopted the most radical budget theme ever – deficit spending.
Deficit spending is clearly a clean break from the budget-balancing obsession of Mr. Aquino. From Cory Aquino to Mr. Aquino, all previous Presidents stood by the sanctity of balanced budgets. But the brutal impact of Eurozone austerity (which had led to horrific social dysfunctions within the Continent that climaxed in Brexit) probably pushed Mr. Duterte to take the road seldom taken, which is a directive to his underlings to spend massively. And not to equate deficit spending with the collapse of the republic.
He will spend to build drug rehab centers. He will spend to lift up the wreck that is the agriculture sector. He will spend for the uber critical urban rail system and the adjunct, the PNR rehab. He will spend to modernize the fraying public infrastructure. Experts have put in addendums to the spending list. After these, he will have to shift into spending items that are truly of the 21st century.
There is another spending imperative, a must, according to a correspondent of this space. It may not be in Mr. Duterte’s priority spending list but it should be there. This is the critical area of building a national broadband network, or NBN, which was attempted earlier, but was mired in controversies. A state-built NBN, operating with the public good as its aim and mantra, and if required, a state-owned NBN that will compete with the private telcos to force the telcos to improve their services and lower their costs. The government run-NBN will be a Third Player with a big stick.
There is now a ready institution to build the NBN, the newly created DICT, according to the correspondent.
According to cyber experts, the upfront money will not be that big. The NBN development will not suck money from the priority projects either. The broadband can be developed in “ segments “ – starting in areas that will generate maximum impact in terms of public good.
Are these the urban areas where mediocre internet service is discouraging investors? Or, the rural areas of the country with non-existent Internet service that are very much like the far-flung areas of India that Mark Zuckerberg had visited to promote the spread of the worldwide web? Or, a combination of urban areas that need web-based investments for the BPO and the like, to the far-flung areas that have to be connected to the communication mainstream.
The beauty of the broadband development is this: The “ segments “ developed could be sewn together to create a unified system at a later point, with not much integration investment required.
Experts said that the NBN should live by the universal ideal of “open access.” It has to be “telco-neutral” and all ISPs of internet service providers should have access to it. Neutrality is the key to successfully operating an alternative to the two private, profit-oriented telcos, and driven by the grand and universal operating principle of “open access.”
Can a private partner come into the picture and tie up with the government for the NBN project? Yes, on these conditions: The private player should commit to open access and to internet rates that are “fair and non-discriminatory.” The government should not dilute the altruistic aims of the state-run broadband. Otherwise, it will not be different from the two, profit-driven telcos.
Question: Would the government be on safe investment ground should it develop an NBN? Is this not an act of crowding out the private sector? No. Look at the Asean and you will find out that all Asean member-countries – except for the sad, poor, late PH – have massive investment in broadband and the web.
After the aborted, scandal-mired NBN project, there is consensus that the Duterte administration is the most ideal leadership context for the development of an NBN.
First, it has the political will to push for reforms at the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), which needs to strengthen its regulatory powers against abusive and profit-driven telcos. The senate hearing where the senators complained of “vanishing loads” and “dead spots” all over was a classic on telco abuse.
Second, it can force the rich villages (ironically where many of the telco executives live) to open up their areas to cell sites. In such villages, cell sites are considered as worse as ISIS, with the villagers united against supposed “cancer-causing radiation.”
There is no sound science to validate the fears. Cancer from cell sites is as mythical as cancer from GMOs. Just plain millionaire whimsy.