MANILA -- One million Filipinos from Visayas and Mindanao will be beneficiaries of a Google.org grant for digital literacy program that will support the growth of the country's digital economy.

Ken Lingan, country manager of Google Philippines, made the announcement during the opening of Google Philippines' new home in Taguig City. Its first office was launched in 2013.

Lingan said the program is in partnership with Digibayanihan, a nationwide digital literacy program that promotes digital inclusion among Filipinos.

Google.org is the philanthropic arm of Google that supports and champions people and projects that are combating some of the biggest human challenges in the 21st century.

"This step is part of our continuing effort to create a stronger, more inclusive digital economy in the Philippines. While Internet penetration has improved over the last five years, two out of five Filipinos are still missing out on the huge opportunities that come with being online. We want to empower them with digital know-how so that they can make most the most of the Internet," Lingan said.

Digibayanihan has reached five million Filipinos, primarily in Luzon. The Google grant, Lingan said, will expand the reach of Digibayanihan to over a million Filipinos in Visayas and Mindanao over the next 18 months.

The literacy program is conducted through a "train-the-trainer" model. So-called "digibayanis" (digital heroes) are trained to teach others basic ICT literacy skills.

DigiBayanihan works with individuals and institutional partners, such as the National Youth Commission (NYC) and the Technical Vocational Schools and Association of the Philippines (Tevsaphil) to scale its outreach.

Expansion

The Google Philippines office is the fifth home of Google in Southeast Asia. Google has offices in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines.

Lingan said the Philippine market is growing and from where they started as a start-up within the Google community, the Philippine office has grown that it needs space for collaborators and developers.

A Google-commissioned report by Temasek showed that the Philippines' online market value is set to reach US$19 billion by 2025, making e-commerce a major economic driver in the next years.

"Our local developers and startups are instrumental in creating impactful businesses that are tackling tough local and global issues. We see the importance of their role in what will be a booming e-commerce in our country in the very near future because what they do has direct impact in people's lives," Lingan said.

Lingan said the new home allows them to expand the workforce in the country. He said there are openings for different positions, but so far, it's more on marketing and sales.

Fake news

Meanwhile, Lingan admitted that addressing the problem on the proliferation of fake news on the net is a challenge.

He said Google is taking steps to address the problem, like making sure that high quality and reliable new sites are on the top of the search page.

He added that they have also stopped monetizing sites containing fake news.

Other products

Google also announced Thursday the launch of Launchpad Accelerator program in the Philippines. The program provides equity-free support to help start-ups scale into thriving companies.

Google also released Thursday 188 new local sites on Street View, including key attractions and landmarks from Batanes to Palawan to Guimaras.

Over 300 sites from across the country have been made available on Street View since the launch of the first collection in 2015.

Google also announced the expanded partnership with the Intramuros Administration. Its historic collection of religious sculptures is now online on the Google Arts & Culture platform, along with 360-degree virtual reality tours accompanied by an audio guide of 17 locations within Intramuros that can be viewed on a simple VR viewer like Google Cardboard. (MVG)