The continuing advancements in science and technology remain the biggest challenge for the Philippines, especially with the advent of artificial technology (AI). Already lagging behind, this debilitates the capability of the Philippine government in fighting crimes in the cyber space. This we are seeing in the persisting cyber scams and other crimes aided by digital technology despite enforcement of laws and other protective measures to safeguard and protect us law-abiding cyber citizens.

A lawyer by profession and tech-savvy, Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Ivan John Uy has reassured the public that the government is stepping up its gears to effectively wage the battle against cyber crimes. In particular, Uy reiterated the DICT readiness to review and amend, if need be, certain provisions of the implementing rules and regulations of the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Registration Law, or Republic Act (RA) 11934.

At the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last week, Uy cited as “quite an accomplishment” that a total of 118 million SIM cards were registered before the lapse of SIM registration deadline last July 25. Uy conceded there are still continuing text scams. He himself admitted he gets one to two text scams a day, or every two to three days.

These text scams were traced to SIM cards registered in “bulks” but used false or “fake” identities, the DICT chief disclosed.

Thus, Uy underscored the pivotal role of volunteer watchdog groups like ScamWatch Pilipinas in promoting digital literacy down to the grassroots level. Uy added the DICT is taking all the necessary counter-measures trying to extend and expand the long arms of the law here in our country all the way to the international front.

Since these cyber syndicates are engaged in “social engineering” criminal acts, Uy vows to reach out with other countries to stop their illegal activities at all platforms across the world. “The DICT is just a technical arm. We help go after cyber crimes in whatever form, including cyber terrorism and other crimes using technology as weapon, or to hide their tracks,” Uy explained.

The Philippine government, through the DICT links up with global cyber security experts from Israel, the United States  (US), Singapore, Estonia, the Interpol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC). “Especially when the criminals are based abroad, so we have to work with international organizations to go after extra-territorial crimes,” the DICT Secretary stressed.

In fact, Uy just arrived from his recent trip to Estonia where he attended the Tallinn Digital Summit 2023 held last Sept. 3. The DICT Secretary led the Philippine delegation and joined fellow Digital Ministers and information technology experts from global companies in this annual event that brings together world leaders of digital nations to chart the future of digitalization.

Uy told us at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay that Estonia is known as one of the world’s digitally advanced countries in the ranks of the US, China, and, Israel. He cited Estonia as highly regarded in global indices in digital public services, cyber security, and internet penetration.

Officially called the Republic of Estonia, it is a country by the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe. Since regaining its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia has become one of the most economically successful of the eastern member-states of the European Union (EU). Estonia has recently implemented a Digital Nomad Visa for people who would like to stay longer in this country with only 1.2 million population.

Uy revealed he and Estonia Prime Minister Kaja Kallas have agreed to strengthen collaborations between their two countries in the areas of mutual interest, particularly in e-governance and cyber security. At the sidelines of this international gathering, Uy informed Kallas that their respective government panels are already preparing a memorandum of understanding on digital cooperation, pending inputs from relevant stakeholders.

Amid relentless “global cyber threats,” Uy quoted Kallas giving Estonia’s commitment to upholding international law in cyberspace. Uy, for his part, mentioned about the country’s intention to draft relevant policies on AI and other frontier technologies.

In December last year, Uy recalled President  Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Kallas met at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-European Union (ASEAN-EU) Commemorative Summit in Brussels, Belgium and agreed to further the collaboration of the two countries on digitalization and e-governance.

Among the ASEAN Digital Ministers, Uy noted the common interest to forge a “united front” in working out arrangements or collaborations with international platforms Google, Facebook, YouTube, Tiktok, and other social media giants where cyber criminals have shifted their illicit operations.

With the 600 million combined population of the ten member states of the ASEAN, the DICT chief believes these international social media giants cannot ignore this “united front” in protecting their people from “global cyber threats.”

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As “road rage” incidents erupted recently one after the other in Metro Manila and other traffic-prone parts of our country, here is something of the opposite. Let me call it a “road honesty” incident, which is rare to many motorists.

Our president and chief executive officer of The Philippine Star, Miguel G. Belmonte, requested me to include his short personal message in my column today.

“To the owner of the vehicle whose side mirror had slight contact with my side mirror (last Friday night), my apologies for the unintentional incident. Sorry I was not able to stop right away as I was not aware this had happened until I noticed my own right side mirror out of position. Since I don’t know who the owner is, if you are reading this, please just contact the The Philippine Star HR at 8527-7777. I will cover the cost to repair any damage your side mirror may have incurred.”