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Aquino dissolves ICT commission

President Benigno Aquino III has dissolved the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), the agency tasked to develop the country's ICT policies. Aquino also abolished the positions of the CICT chairman and commissioners. The Executive Order, reorganizing the agency into the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) was issued June 23, just two days after the appointment of Oliver Chato as CICT Commissioner. EO 47 transferred the ICTO to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Its new head will be an executive director with the rank of undersecretary. Aquino also ordered the transfer of the National Computer Center and the Telecommunications Office, two of CICT's attached agencies, to the DOST. These two offices will "form part of the internal structure of the ICTO." However, the President retained the National Telecommunications Office and the Philippine Postal Corporation under the Office of the President. Quick change Through EO 47, Aquino ordered the DOST to prepare a medium-term development plan for ICT research and development, and its linkages to the ICT industry, and a medium-term e-governance infrastructure and information systems plan. But it was also only last Wednesday when the CICT unveiled its Philippine Digital Strategy for 2011 to 2016, supposedly the country's ICT roadmap for the next five years. The new EO came just as the country ended its celebration on June 30 of National ICT Month. Sec. Ivan John Uy, who was CICT chairman, has declined to issue a comment for now, saying: "We would have to study the executive order first." Last June 21, Aquino named Oliver Chato, son of Camarines Norte Rep. Liwayway Vinzons-Chato, as new commissioner of the CICT. The elder Chato, a former commissioner at the Bureau of Internal Revenue, is a member of Aquino's Liberal Party. Aquino appointed the new commissioner and then abolished the post 48 hours later. Created by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through E.O. 269, the CICT was tasked to manage, coordinate and implement ICT-related plans of the government. It was also established to harmonize the country's ICT agenda. Surprised In an interview with GMA News Online, George Kintanar, president of the CIO Forum, an organization of government CIOs, said that they "were surprised" by the administrartion's move. "We just learned about it today. We would like to review our strategy and see how we can move this forward," Kintanar said. Whatever policy will be implemented by "people from the top," the group would follow obediently, he added. He also clarified that Aquino's latest move is not detrimental to the group's continuing advocacy towards the creation of a Department of ICT (DICT). "Whatever will be the decision of Congress will be followed, so if they decide to pass the DICT bill, then the department will be created," he explained. The DICT bill, Kintanar said, has already passed the committee level in the House of Representatives, and is well on its way to first reading. Making way for DICT? In a Facebook post, former CICT commissioner Damian "Dondi" Mapa said that the commission's transfer under the DOST is a mere renaming, "maybe even a sidestep towards the eventual coming of the DICT." Mapa said that there are some advantages to being a part of a line agency, as this could pave the way for the creation of a Cabinet department. "Based on the EO, there will be a plan to rationalize the staffing of the ICTO. Hopefully, this is carried out quickly which will then make it easier to transition the ICTO into a DICT, which is envisioned to also be a line department," Mapa told GMA News Online via Facebook. Not a priority Despite rampant calls by industry groups and legislators for the creation of a DICT, Malacañang was clear on its stance: the DICT is not a priority. "The creation of a separate department would escalate the cost, the administrative cost of performing that function… We are not in a position to bear the higher level of administrative cost of creating a separate department," Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in an earlier interview. Aquino, during the 2010 presidential campaign, was lukewarm to the creation of new agencies, saying that an office to manage ICT would be more of a "support mechanism, as opposed to line agencies." Coloma said that while the government recognizes the importance of an overseeing body for ICT, Coloma said the CICT would be enough for that function for now. "For now we are just focusing on the need for the CICT operating as an office under the Office of the President to perform its mandate," he said. PNoy's move 'a pity' In an e-mail interview with GMA News Online, Lito Averia of the Philippine Computer Emergency Response Team (PH-CERT) lamented the administration's decision to transfer the CICT to DOST. "It's a pity, and the official announcement coming right at the heels of CICT’s launching of the Philippine Digital Strategy," Averia pointed out. Averia, who had worked closely with Uy when the latter was still the CIO of the Supreme Court, revealed that the chairman knew of the commission's fate for several months now, and was aware that the eventual abolition of the CICT "was inevitable." He added that in the last COMSTE (Congressional Commission on Science and Technology) Sen. Edgardo Angara and Rep. Freddie Tinga, who hosted the meeting, threw their support behind the creation of a DICT. "Sadly, in the same meeting, the DOST expressed that it is not supportive of the initiatives to create the DICT, echoing the sentiments of the current administration," he said. Averia added that a quick read of the new functions stipulated in the EO "reduces the a support function. Very little is said about market development and promotions." "It has to be noted that IT [or ICT] no longer performs just a support function, rather it is now in the forefront of economic development in the country," he stressed. "ICT and ICT-enabled companies have grown large and continues to grow and generate revenues for the country." Other countries already have their own ICT departments, and foreign investors have been looking for such a counterpart in the Philippines, Averia said. "We can only hope that the CICT focus will not be watered down now that it is under DOST," he added. — ELR/TJD/VS, GMA News