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The right to broadband

Filipinos of all political persuasions should welcome the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to approve a National Broadband Program designed to provide Internet communications access to every Filipino.

According to a report by the Manila Bulletin, the National Broadband Program (NBP), is intended “to provide a clear direction for the Philippine government to ensure that all Filipinos will reap the benefits of broadband, address challenges, and accelerate broadband deployment.”

It added that the program “also aims to interconnect government offices across the country, increase internet penetration, especially in far-flung areas, and stimulate economic growth through the digital empowerment of the people.”

In 2016, internet penetration in the country stood at 46%, which is at par with the global internet penetration rate but still very low considering that over half our population do not have access to internet.

Social media penetration among Filipinos is 47% for the same year. More significantly, Filipinos spent 3.7 hours, the highest in the world, using various social media engines.

In terms of broadband speed, we have a measly average of 2.8 mbps compared to the 5.1 mbps global average. Our Internet speed is certainly very poor especially when compared to South Korea (20.5 mbps), Hong Kong (15.8 mbps), Japan (15 mbps), and Singapore (12.5 mbps).

I therefore applaud the Duterte administration for embarking on this ambitious and important plan. We live in the digital age where people all over the world are transcending barriers courtesy of the ability of the Internet to interconnect, business, politics, trade and people.

Billions of pesos worth of business transactions are completed through the Internet. Activists from London are able to network with citizens in the Middle East. Overseas Filipino Workers are able to talk to their families every day through social media and other Internet-based facilities.

These are probably the same reasons why the United Nations declared the “right to access to the Internet” as a basic human right. Yes, alongside the political, economic, and social rights of all human persons, the right to Internet access is now a fundamental right of all individuals.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) noted “that the exercise of human rights, in particular the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet is an issue of increasing interest and importance as the rapid pace of technological development enables individuals all over the world to use new information and communication technologies.”

In particular, the UNHRC declared freedom of expression on the Internet to be a basic human right. In a resolution, the Council affirmed that “the same rights that people have off-line must also be protected on-line, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice.”

Critics of President Duterte, here and abroad, should be able to acknowledge and support the positive impact of this initiative from the government. Despite getting his fair share of online attacks, President Duterte has decided that the overriding public interest to get interconnected in order to exercise their rights and spur development is paramount.

Those who unfairly label the President as “authoritarian” and “dictator” must be able to appreciate how this broadband plan will actually advance the democratic rights of citizens to participate and seek redress of grievances.

Dictators suppress the Internet, they punish online dissenters. But President Duterte, who secured the people’s mandate overwhelmingly in legitimate elections, is actually fostering freedom of speech and expression by ensuring that all Filipinos would have access to the internet.

Those who criticize his human rights records should be able to see how this program, when fully and successfully implemented, would foster human rights as declared by the United Nations.

As I have been writing in my many columns in the past, we need to go beyond the political noise and appreciate the significant changes that are being pursued by this government. If we are able to ignore the partisan noisemakers, then we can see the sincerity and the passion of President Duterte to change our nation’s direction for the better.
(Senator Manny Villar)