Friday, August 22, 2003

A Girl Named Toby Monsod

IN August 1997, I made a call in the ph-isp list throwing the idea of coming up with an organization whose mandate is to push for the passage of the E-Commerce Bill. That lead to the creation of the Philippine Internet Commerce Society.

Lobbying takes a lot of effort and have used mailing lists, speaking events, community meetings extensively to gather support. After the passage of the Y2K Law and ensuring that proper preparations and contingencies were taken for the country to cross the millennium, with minimal or no problems, the legislative branch resumed in pushing the E-Commerce Bill.

I first met Toby Monsod in the summer of 2000 as she became Assistant Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry. From Undersecretary Nely Favis Villafuerte, the E-Commerce Promotion Council was put under the jurisdiction of Toby. The introduction took place in one of the hearings then at the House of Representatives where the proposed E-Commerce Bill was being discussed.

However, we got into one phone argument around Holy Tuesday (sometime in April) on some bureaucratic issues about the drafting of the implementing rules and regulation (IRR) of the proposed E-Commerce Bill. Such is quite an awkward scenario especially for two people who hardly know each other. At the heat of it, our discussion got cut off as I just walked into a dead spot in Robinsons Galleria. She called me again and expressed apology for any misunderstanding or confusion. Knowing that such is not intentional as there may be people around misinforming her, I apologized too and agreed to meet the next day to get to know each other more.

Having arguments with people became a norm to me then as lobbying for policies is like fighting battles inside and outside the chambers of Congress. However, it is great to meet an individual who knows how to acknowledge and apologize for any misunderstanding upfront. I hardly meet people like that. That maybe a small deal for some but it is certainly a big one for me especially hearing it from a person with authority.

When the E-Commerce Law was passed and promulgated last June 14, 2000, Toby approached me and asked about our plans for the IRR. I told her that we will be drafting our own and reconcile with the version that the DTI-IRR team will be producing. She suggested upfront that we consolidate our resources and agreed.

From June 15 to the first week of July, we’ve been meeting twice to thrice a week to finalize the IRR of the law along with other volunteers and stakeholders stated in the law. I’m very impressed to meet a high-level government person who is so hands-on and took the time to be knowledgeable on various aspects of ICT to be an effective leader in the drafting process. During heated arguments of the working group, which was really intense, she was above the situation putting things in proper perspective and call for a decision with her co-chairs from the Department of Budget and Management and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Finally, on July 13, 2000, the IRR of the E-Commerce Law was signed electronically during the Global Information Infrastructure Conference. Without Toby’s hands-on and intelligent participation, I don’t think such would have happened.

In November 2000, I was asked by Toby to head the legal cluster of the newly formed Information Technology and Electronic Commerce Council that will ensure proper implementation of the E-Commerce Law, especially in government, and provide the necessary policy assistance. Toby Monsod was the Executive Director of ITECC then. The opportunity was challenging for I am the only woman committee head and the youngest as well. As a leader, Toby was on top of ITECC developments. She also fostered an open door policy where any ICT enthusiast can come, participate, and observe in an ITECC meeting for as long as they are willing to contribute. Such openness made me so impressed with her even more.

After former President Joseph Estrada stepped down from office, changes happened in ITECC. There was a move then to have an IT organization to become the umbrella body of all IT organizations. The move was quite strong to the point that only those who are part of it can be part of ITECC. Being one of the primary advocates of the E-Commerce Law that lead to the creation of ITECC, it was infuriating knowing that it is headed by a presidential adviser close to the current government leadership.

I’m amazed at how DTI Secretary Mar Roxas and Toby Monsod put down the idea stating that such an organization should earn such a position and privilege, not imposed. However, there was a turn of events when ITECC was put under the office of the President and the presidential adviser became one of the co-chairs along with Mar Roxas.

The changes in ITECC charter resulted to the replacement of Toby Monsod as its Executive Director. Her replacement was a presidential adviser (who happened to be a first cousin of another presidential adviser chairing ITECC) of the current administration.

Such is not a rosy picture for me as I’ve fought presidential advisers in the past whom I believed has a conflict of interest. However, rather than putting up a fight and cause the boat to rock in such a delicate political time, I decided to step down as its chair. When I made such decision, Toby was shocked and sad.

However, we kept our relationship as friends and helped the DTI in setting up and managing the IT Help Desk then. However, the day came also that Toby has to leave government office and pursue her studies. Knowing how things have gone really bad and non-transparency in ITECC, I felt that she might have been frustrated as well.

At present, we call each other from time to time and have coffee whenever our schedule permits. Well she’s still with the industry and writes a column on a monthly basis in Computer World Philippines. As writers, I guess that’s the only way for us to advocate for changes without causing too much political rumble. Although I must admit that these differences of opinion also resulted for the industry to be further divided. Well the next election won’t be far and I hope these people will be replaced soon.

I guess what I’d like to say in this article is that I’ve never met a government official who is as senior as Toby Monsod who is intelligent, dedicated, and honest with her work. She’s a straight talker and unafraid in expressing her views. However, when she knows that you’re right, she’ll be open in accepting them and change her perspective as well. When she’s wrong, she knows how to apologize directly for her mistakes.

I only hope that there’ll be more people like her in government. Perhaps, if such day comes, I’ll be encouraged to serve IT policy making bodies once again.