Filipinos join #IGF2014 – but where’s the Aquino gov’t?

ISTANBUL – The ninth meeting of the Internet Governance Forum opened September 2nd and runs until the 5th here in this beautiful capital city of Turkey.

Organizers said the Istanbul IGF has about 3,000 participants from governments, intergovernmental organizations, business, the technical community and civil society, coming from at least 132 countries.

About a dozen Filipinos are attending Istanbul IGF, including civil society representatives, a private sector representative, a lawyer, a journalist and a blogger.

According to organizers, at least two Philippine government officials registered as IGF delegates: Undersecretary Louis Napoleon Casambre, the executive director of the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), and ICTO director Philip Varilla.

Casambre and Varilla however were unable to leave for Istanbul, according to reports.

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Aquino and ICT

The apparent non-participation or disinterest of the Philippine government is not at all unexpected.

The Aquino administration’s passage of the Cybercrime Law in 2012 — which extended criminalization of libel to online speech, and slapped penalties one degree higher to online offenses — drew multistakeholder rebuke and protests across the Philippines.

The only “stakeholders” that backed the Cybercrime Law were law enforcement and the business process outsourcing industry. The latter, however, expressed objections to the inclusion of libel and other content-related offenses in the bill signed into law by President Aquino.

President Aquino, who portrays himself as a champion against corruption, continues to refuse to push for the speedy passage of the Freedom of Information Bill first filed in 1992, antedating the Philippines’ first internet connection which happened in 1994.

The Aquino administration has also failed to act on consumer calls to enact anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws, and measures to protect consumer welfare amid the deregulated regime of the telecommunications sector.

Early in his term, President Aquino abolished the Commission on Information and Communication Technology (CICT) and moved its functions to the ICTO, an office attached to the Department of Science and Technology.

Despite limitations, Filipinos have rushed to the internet since it was first introduced in 1994. The Philippines was dubbed as “social media capital” in 2011, due to its high percentage of Facebook users, and “selfie capital”, specifically the cities of Makati, Pasig and Cebu.

Startup ecosystems have emerged in Manila, Cebu, Davao and other cities, thanks to the self-reliant efforts of developers to reach out to colleagues and venture capitalists, both domestic and foreign.

What is IGF?

The UN convenes the IGF meeting, through the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as “an open, inclusive and transparent forum for dialogue on public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance.”

The IGF is the mainstream international multistakeholder Internet governance policy forum.

The emphasis on its “multistakeholder” process or methods comes from the UN mandate that it “serve as a neutral space” where stakeholders come on an equal footing. These stakeholders are government, intergovernmental organizations, private sector, technical community and civil society.

The World Summit on the Information Society in 2006 granted the mandate for the IGF. In 2010, the UN General Assembly extended the IGF ‘s mandate for five more years.

What is Internet governance?

A WSIS report defines Internet governance as “the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”

The two other stakeholders are the technical community and intergovernmental organizations.

[Tonyo Cruz is one of four journalists supported by SEAPA to cover the Internet Governance Forum 2014 in Istanbul. This article originally appeared in Tonyo’s blog.]