THE newly approved creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) through Republic Act (RA) 10844 is a welcome development in the landscape of public governance in the country. The DICT shall be the primary policy, planning, coordinating, implementing, and administrative entity of the executive branch of the government that will plan, develop, and promote the national ICT development agenda. Further, DICT would not only streamline the country’s information systems and technology requirements, but more so in facilitating the implementation of the upcoming enactment of the Freedom on Information (FOI) bill and the succeeding Comelec’s automated National and Local Elections (NLEs).
It may be recalled that the evolution of the DICT originally started as the National Information Technology Council (NITC) in the late 90s. After the enactment of the e-Commerce Law or RA 8792 in 2000, the NITC was converted to Information Technology and Electronic Commerce Council (ITECC) under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). A Government Information System Plan (GISP) was then crafted. Later, the ITECC was transferred to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), then later to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and, finally, it became the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) in 2004.
Under the CICT then were the National Computer Center (NCC), National Computer Institute (NCI), National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), and Telecommunications Office (TELOF). In 2011, CICT was abolished and replaced by the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) under the control of the DOST. And last May 23, RA 10844 transferred the functions of ICTO, NCC, NCI, TELOF and all operating units of the DOTC with functions and responsibilities dealing with communications. Likewise, the NTC, National Privacy Commission, and the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC) shall be DICT attached agencies.
Among the salient points of the DICT goals under the RA10844 Section 2 vis-à-vis Automated Election System (AES) Law (RA 9369) are the following:
• To ensure the security of critical ICT infrastructures including information assets of the government, individuals and businesses (i.e., conduct of source code review and the use of electronic transmission and digital signatures);
• To ensure the rights of individuals to privacy and confidentiality of their personal information (i.e., secured Voters’ Database of Comelec);
• To provide oversight over agencies governing and regulating the ICT sector and ensure consumer protection and welfare, data privacy and security, foster competition and the growth of the ICT sector.
Further, Section 6 of RA 10844 defines the major powers and functions of DICT and hereunder are the critical points covering the AES implementation:
• Provide an integrated framework in order to optimize all government ICT resources and networks for the identification and prioritization of all e-Government systems and applications as provided for the e-Government Master Plan and the Philippine Development Plan;
• Assist and provide technical expertise to government agencies in the development of guidelines in the enforcement and administration of laws (i.e., including the AES law and the future enactment of FOI Bill), standards, rules, and regulations governing ICT;
• Ensure and protect the rights and welfare of consumers and business users to privacy, security and confidentiality in matters relating to ICT (i.e., encompassing Comelec’s database of voters), in coordination with agencies concerned, the private sector and relevant international bodies; and,
• Establish guidelines for public-private partnerships (e.g., election stakeholders) in the implementation of ICT projects for government agencies.
Section 8 of AES Law stipulates that the Comelec’s Advisory Council (CAC) shall be headed by the CICT chairman. It was in the first NLEs in 2010 when the CICT made their recommendation then not to use Smartmatic’s Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) for 2013 elections; but Comelec defied CICT. The latter discovered so many problems on the use of the PCOS machines and that Comelec had not complied with most of the technical provisions of the AES Law.
Then, for 2013 NLEs, the ICTO, formerly CICT, provided Comelec with digital certificates for digital signing (i.e., compliant with RA 8792 or e-Commerce Law) by the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) and Board of Canvassers (BOCs); but Comelec didn’t use it.
Sections 22/25 of RA 9369 stipulates that the election returns (ERs)/certificates of canvass (COC) transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for the proclamation of a winning candidate. The past three NLEs had no digital signing and had so many problems with electronic transmission. And, finally, the ICTO was offering Comelec the same digital signing facilities for 2016 NLEs and, once again, ignored by Comelec. The latter manifested in the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee early this year that they shall consider digital signing in 2019 NLEs. In short, Comelec has ignored the successive recommendations of the CAC as the former would always stand as the “Boss” in the implementation of the AES law.
With the new DICT, this will dramatically change how Comelec would comply with RA 9369. Comelec will surely not be the “Boss” anymore as “Change is Coming!”