The Right To Light

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It was an unexpectedly interesting debate, and all for the right reasons. The vice presidential candidates were direct in their criticism of their rivals when the topic gave them an opening, but civility ruled throughout. No one was holding back punches, but everyone refrained from being coarse and uncivil. I must also point out that the moderators themselves were intelligent and effective in their role.

Many of the lighthouse_0chosen topics and questions tackled by the candidates were anticipated, but the views and responses still managed to be exciting most of the time. Of course, the audience in attendance seemed quite partisan, possibly as each candidate must have had his or her own set of followers there. But partisanship in an election is par for the course, and political debates are no exception. And except for hecklers who were promptly escorted out of the auditorium, the partisan audience were expressive but stayed well within the agreed bounds. The vice presidential candidates knew they were performing not just for a few thousand partisan supporters seated in front of them but a national audience, and behaved accordingly.

A special bonus for me was the issue of the Internet speed in the Philippines that was asked by the moderators. It was another pleasant surprise, even just the mere fact that it was regarded as important enough to be an intentional topic in the debate. I, for one, believe that the general subject of the Internet is a crucial and critical factor that ought to be the topic of more debates, especially after elections. I am glad that one of the candidates did mention that the Internet is a human right. I could not agree more.

This is the era of information. From millennia dominated by the darkness of ignorance and immobility, humanity is shifting powerfully towards the opposite direction. Many may still remember the book titled “The Art of War” by Lao Tzu. The importance given to secrecy in the whole of human history is turning toward the new importance now being given to transparency. Transparency is more than a moral directive; it is an inevitable consequence when light overtakes darkness.

Because information lights up the mind, and resets the whole understanding of man from before knowing something to when he knows much more. Light brings knowledge, and knowledge differentiates man from animal. Light, therefore, is a human right that is preordained by creation itself. And among the agents providing light to the human mind, none is as important as the Internet.

The Internet is information, the Internet is economics, the Internet is academics and education, the Internet is politics (even though many politicians are not keenly aware of this yet), and the Internet is about human and social relationships. If Filipinos do not yet appreciate the emerging ascendancy of the Internet, it is precisely because half are still in darkness. And the other half that is already connected, complains about the slow speed of their connection. The end result is just about the same. Whether none or slow, the Filipino will be left behind.

It was a godsend, therefore, that the Internet was briefly discussed by the debaters. I know that some tried to win pogi points by blaming the telcos (main providers of Internet service) for the slow Internet speed. But when one claimed that the reason why telcos are slow to increasing the Internet speed is because of the kind of profits they make from calls and texts, I believe the business and technology environment has changed dramatically enough to alter the equation. Profits may remain the key driver for development and expansion by the private sector, but profits will shift radically from call-and-text towards data. And the demand for data will be unimaginable.

It might be wiser to assume that Internet providers will want to both increase connectivity and speed. In fact, if the Internet as the main agent in bringing information, or light, to human societies, connectivity and speed can be the fundamental parameters to guide government in their regulatory function over the Internet service providers.

Correspondingly, government must see to it that the field is opened up according to the capacity and commitment of the interested players – and only according to that. Pushing connectivity and speed requires that government must clear the operating areas of red tape and bureaucracy that can cause worse delays than Internet service providers.

There is a physical aspect to connectivity and speed—the need for land, towers or cell sites. Remember the choke points when applying for building or construction permits—from the barangay level all the way up to the mayor’s or governor’s office? If national government and Congress will, indeed, elevate Internet connectivity and speed to the category of a human right, they must see to it that delays can never be on the side of government.

I watched a CNN interview featuring India’s richest businessman, and he had an Internet dream. He said she will provide high-speed Internet service to the whole of India in a three-year period (80 percent by the end of 2016). He will literally light up the Indian people, light up their minds. The connectivity and speed he is investing in will bring exposure to an expanding global reality even if one is a farmer in a remote area. And India is a major competitor of the Philippines in the field of information, technology and communication services.

The Filipino is creative, innovative, entertaining, and service oriented. In all these areas, he excels – if he has light, if he can see others and others see him. Filipino children, the majority of them, are already left behind because of poverty. That is why the K-12 program was established, in order to catch up. But that is not enough, not by a mile.

Open the Internet to every home and be amazed at what the Filipino can do in and out of the classroom. In darkness, in ignorance of what is happening in the world that is greater than us, immobilized by poverty that defies alleviation, the Filipino cannot catch those ahead of him—and will be overtaken by those behind him.

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