internet in the Philippines

As PH celebrates 30th internet anniversary, disinformation, digital divide top issues to address

Jessica Bonifacio

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As PH celebrates 30th internet anniversary, disinformation, digital divide top issues to address


'We celebrate the incredible journey of the internet in the Philippines and we dedicate ourselves to building a brighter, more connected future for all,' says Rodolfo Villarica, known as one of the fathers of PH internet

Editor’s note: The E-Commerce act was established in June 2000 and not in 2001. This has been corrected.

The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) hosted the Digital Rights Conference, Wednesday, March 20, at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), celebrating thirty years since the Philippines first connected to the internet on March 29, 1994.

With the theme, “Honoring the Past, Safeguarding the Future,” the event gathered experts from various tech and advocacy spheres to reflect on the pioneering days of the internet and discuss pressing issues facing digital rights today.

“The miracle of the internet has changed the world and enriched our lives,” opened Raphael Guerrero, Dean of the Ateneo’s School of Science and Engineering.

Rodolfo Villarica, known as one of the fathers of Philippine internet, recalled the challenges of establishing the country’s gateway to the web – particularly, the large cost associated with the project and uncertainties regarding equipment procurement.

Despite these obstacles, the project, called PHNET, was a resounding success. Three decades later, the internet has become an integral part of life, easing the speed and inclusivity of information while also engendering new threats that necessitate the recognition of digital rights. Such has been the embrace of Filipinos of the technology, that they’ve become the world’s biggest consumers of vlogs, and a top social media user.

Women’s month in the digital age

In line with the celebration of Women’s Month, Liza Garcia of FMA recognized the historical contribution of women in technological advancement – Ada Lovelace, the first programmer; Hedy Lamarr, inventor of frequency-hopping technology now used for WiFi and Bluetooth; and Merlita Opena, who pioneered works in technology transfer and databases.

For the opening remarks, Senator Risa Hontiveros spoke about the policies that protect against online harassment and gender-based discrimination, in particular, the Safe Spaces Act and the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children Act.

“The same danger that exists in the real world also exists online, especially for vulnerable groups like women,” explained Grace Salonga, executive director of the Movement Against Disinformation.

“Technology can facilitate polarization and division in a society, unlike before, when you knew that certain wrongdoing could be confined within a territory. Now it’s a mission, and it can happen within hours.”

Since its adoption in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has served to recognize and safeguard the fundamental rights of human beings regardless of sex, race, religion, or other status. According to Jamael Jacob, Data Protection Officer of the ADMU, the principles of the UDHR must persist despite the changing tides of technology.

He divided digital rights into two aspects: rights on the internet, and rights to the internet.

Rights on the internet

Rights on the internet are the same inalienable rights afforded to everyone offline. With the instantaneous accessibility of information comes the right to freely receive and share it through any media, and be able to express and hold opinions without interference. 

For Jacob, this right is threatened by the spread of disinformation facilitated by both government and private actors. Recent advances such as generative artificial intelligence have also been misused to produce fake content and exacerbate surveillance through its collection of training data.

Additionally, he noted the online attacks on the freedom of the press – with websites being taken down and journalists facing harassment and charges of cyber libel

He listed controversial legislations that may threaten people’s digital rights; including the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Philippine Identification System Act, which can track a record history of one’s PhilSys transactions using the ID.

Rights to the internet

UNESCO defines the digital divide as the gap between those “who have internet access and are able to make use of new services offered on the World Wide Web, and those who are excluded from these services.”

The barriers to inclusive connectivity can be financial, cultural, or literacy and language-related.

“There are places where the infrastructure necessary to facilitate internet access are notably absent,” explains Jacob, “There are also places where these things are available but are beyond the reach of most people because of the prohibitive cost of connectivity.”

He also noted instances when people do not know how to operate devices that allow network connections or do not understand the language used by these platforms.

“Further complicating matters is the gender divide,” he added, “In many places in the world, women, especially poor women, are still less likely to have access to ICT resources compared to their male counterparts.”

Safeguarding the future

“As far as policies are concerned, we now have a growing number of legislations, regulations that aim to uphold and protect people’s rights and welfare online,” he said.

One of these policies is the E-Commerce Act of 2000, which produced definitions for cyber crimes like hacking and piracy. Later on, the establishment of the National Privacy Commission added a strong layer of protection to the processing of online and offline personal data.

The recently signed Internet Transactions Act of 2023 also sealed the protection of consumer rights concerning e-market exchanges. 

“And then there’s the Commission on Human Rights, particularly during the term of Chito Gascon, who also began to pay more attention to the intersectional between human rights and national rights with the rampant advancements in technology and, in recent years, of the internet.”

Villarica described the first PH internet connection as a “historic moment” marked by the fulfillment of effort and collaboration.

“Despite the past hurdles,” he said, “the determination and commitment of all involved paved the Philippines to embrace the transformative power of the internet and willpower through the challenges that lie ahead as well.”

“As we look back to the past 30 years, I look ahead to the future. We celebrate the incredible journey of the internet in the Philippines and we dedicate ourselves to building a brighter, more connected future for all.” –

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