THE opening salvo of the 2022 National ICT Month became a historic event in policy innovation.

The Senate on Monday, May 30, 2022, approved on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 1834 or the Philippine Digital Workforce Competitiveness Bill authored by Senator Joel Villanueva and Senator Sonny Angara. The following day, the House of Representatives adopted and concurred with the said Senate Bill as an amendment to House Bill 6926 or the Philippine Digital Careers Bill. This now means that said concurrence goes back to the Senate for the bill to become an enrolled one for signature of the President before he steps down on June 30, 2022.

I am extremely proud to be a part of the crafting of the bill, particularly the Digital Careers Bill under Senator Angara, a legislative direction that digital advocates and innovators around the country had been pushing for almost two decades.

Here are the important things that the bill will institutionalize as a policy innovation if enacted into law in this country not just in words, but under a law.

First is the whole of nation, whole of government approach in future-proofing the skills of the Philippines. Every department will have each set of tasks according to its mandate – but with a common vision - a vision championed by the President and every citizen of this country - where do we want the Philippines to be in the future? The answer lies in the quality and scalability of our workforce.

The bill establishes an Inter-Agency Council for Development and Competitiveness of Philippine Digital Workforce which is authorized to enter into public-private partnership with experts, IT-BPO industry associations, private companies and other stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of training, skills development, and certification programs.

Second, the bill provides a framework for the development of the digital workforce to ensure that Filipinos are equipped with digital skills and 21st century skills; provide support through provision of co-working or shared service facilities; ensure digital inclusion for specialized sectors like senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and indigenous peoples; enable collaboration between industry and labor for the upskilling, re-skilling and training of the Filipino workforce in digital technology and innovations.

Third, the law puts the weight and the responsibility on every city, province or municipality to do their skills inventory. Since 2004 - every time I am asked about the absorptive capacity of Bacolod and Negros Occidental for digital jobs on a year-to-year basis vis-a-vis course per course basis and drilled down to specific digital skill, I cannot sleep for days. These are tough questions - and not just my job to know. Now under the bill, we mandate the local government units to come up with their own local digital workforce competitiveness strategies.

It mandates LGUs to create local policies supporting and promoting the growth and development of digital technology, digital careers and innovations in their respective communities. It also mandates every LGU through its Peso to create a localized digital technology and digital skills registry.

It also mandates the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Library of the Philippines to promote the role of libraries in improving digital inclusion and transform these libraries as providers of digital access.

It sets the third week of June as the Digital Workforce Week, to coincide with the National ICT to promote awareness on evolving jobs and skills requirements in digital technology and innovations, government assistance, training and certifications, and digital career and business opportunities.

The bill mandates the DTI to help establish co-working or shared service facilities to support the development and enhancement of digital skills and competencies of the workers and future members of the workforce. It also mandates the DILG and DICT to assess the e-readiness of all municipalities, cities, provinces, and regions to ensure a thriving digital workforce ecosystem, and ensure ICT infrastructures in every LGU.

Finally, we have a law which will recognize digital skills as one of the foundational, lifelong learning set of skills - all citizens must have - not just something that ICT graduates have but all - across all disciplines - in the Information Age.

I pray that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will sign the bill. It was crafted with the voices and experiences of the countryside. I know personally. This will be one good legacy he can leave to the nation.