Perhaps the most visible agents in the innovation landscape are the private companies that currently use and are actively looking for transformative technologies. These companies, for example, hold conventions for ‘business leaders’ and executives, usually as a method to market products and services or to keep abreast of emerging trends. This reflects the reality that research and development (R&D) is ‘largely private sector-led’, as 64-73 percent of the R&D investments came from the private sector in 2002 – 2011 (Aquino, Correa, Manalo, Faylon, 2014).
Furthermore, the government investment in science, technology, and innovation ‘pale in comparison’ with those of its ASEAN neighbors and China (Aquino et al., 2014). The country allots only 0.1 percent of its GDP to R&D, far smaller than the allocation of countries like Japan and Korea. The number of researchers per million people is also lower in the Philippines compared with those in some of the neighboring countries like Singapore (Aquino et al., 2014). One contributing factor (and also an outcome) of the poor investment in R&D is the ‘exodus’ of researchers and scientists either to the private sector or to find greener pastures abroad.
However, the government, particularly the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), are still the most decisive forces in setting the policy regulatory environment and overcoming the digital divide. Although the Philippines has seen a massive increase in internet penetration rate (72 percent as of 2020, according to Internet World Stats, which compiled data from Facebook, International Communications Union, and other sources), there is still a huge chunk of the population that was never exposed to the internet. Furthermore, this internet penetration data does not take into consideration internet literacy levels. The number of mobile phone users in the country is expected to reach 90 million (majority of the population) by 2021 (Ericsson Mobility Report, 2016, cited by Jiao, 2016) but the lack of mobile signal and 4G connectivity hinders users in many rural areas from taking advantage of the full potential of mobile connectivity (of course, another decisive factor is poverty levels in the countryside).
In the global scale, Philippines is ranked only 101st out of 176 economies (near the lowest third) in the ICT Development Index (IDI) as of 2017. Through the IDI tool, the International Teleconommunication Union, an agency under the United Nations, ranked ‘the performance of 176 economies with regard to ICT infrastructure, use and skills, allowing for comparisons to be made between countries and over time’ (Talavera, 2017). Meanwhile, in the Global Innovation Index (GII) of 2019, which evaluates countries’ capacity for innovation through a set of indicators, the Philippines ranked 54th out of 126 economies – a huge leap of 19 notches from the 2018 rankings. The GII is published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and World Intellectual Property Organization. In another index, the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) of 2019, Philippines ranks 72nd out of 141 economies in the ‘Innovation capability’ indicator and 64th across all indicators (Schwab, 2019, p.462). The GCI, published by the World Economic Forum, measures ‘Innovation capability’ through variables like research and development expenditures.
For Marasigan (2017), the digital divide in the country ‘is a problem that persisted due to a confluence of reasons: one is the government’s refusal to invest in digital infrastructure, another is the bureaucracy in seeking permits by private companies from local governments.’ For Vea (2017, cited by Marasigan, 2017), the digital divide is a ‘symptom of the more persistent socioeconomic inequalities’, an observation that appears to be at the root of the digital divide, given that the income inequality in the country remains ‘stubbornly high (above world average)’, according to a 2017 report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Asian Development Bank, and the UN Development Programme (Caraballo, 2017).
For its part, the government has drafted ‘roadmaps’, or programs and policy directions, in the effort of addressing the digital divide. An example of this would be the ‘ICT roadmap for the next six years’ (starting 2017), which includes the implementation of the ‘Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting Migration Plan’, the first ever Telecommunications Summit, and the development of the eGovernment Master Plan 2.0 (Department of Informations and Communications Technology, 2017). Government agencies like DICT are also aiming to build ‘smart cities’, which ‘entails the integration of efficient communications technologies to be introduced…into the everyday lives of citizens’ (Department of Informations and Communications Technology).
Apart from the developing policy frameworks, government agencies like the DOST also invest in programs aiming to improve the productivity and profitability of small and medium enterprises through technology interventions.