January 27, 2004 (STAR) By Antonette Reyes - Governing an archipelago of 7,000 islands is no easy job. Bringing government closer to 80 million people speaking 80 different dialects is even tougher. Despite the best of intentions, the government has yet to discover an effective way of reaching out to its constituents and, more importantly, getting feedback from them.

Until, of course, text messaging came along. Text messaging, in this land of diverse dialects and varied cultures, is a language unto itself – one understood by people of all backgrounds, and in many instances, a means to an end. The power of text messaging is so tremendous it toppled a president, and has yet to yield its full potential.

Recognizing this, the government is turning to the Short Messaging Service, or SMS, as a tool less for politics than for making its presence felt more strongly by the people. Hand in hand with local service providers, the government is taking advantage of the texting phenomenon to reach out to more people and provide them the services they need. Altruism is not all there is to this, however.

Rather, it is the realization that text messaging is the most cost-effective – or better yet, the most effective way of getting people involved. It isn’t hard to understand why Pinoys have no trouble latching on to the SMS phenomenon, even in their dealings with government.

Bureau Of Internal Revenue

Any purchase of goods or services with a minimum amount of P100 will entitle the texter to one raffle entry. A receipt worth P1,000, therefore, entitles the texter to 10 raffle entries.

For first-time participants, register with the BIR by typing RESIBO <space> <name> * <address> * <TIN of the professional/business/commercial establishment> * receipt number> * <amount of purchase> and send to 345.

For succeeding entries, just type RESIBO <space> <TIN of professional/business/commercial establishment> * <receipt number> * <amount of purchase> and send to 345.

Tax evaders are one of the biggest thorns on government’s back. In a country where enterprise thrives in all places, from the dingiest alleys to the ritziest malls, tax evaders thrive just as happily, feeding on a system that fails to identify them and take them to task.

It takes a leap of the imagination to turn to SMS as a way to get around systematic and infrastructural problems, but this is exactly what the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has done in its thankless task of tracking down tax evaders. What moral suasion and legal maneuvers have failed to do, text messaging has done.

Last June, the BIR started the "Bayan, I-TXT Ang Resibo" campaign – a tax-evader-netting crusade in the guise of a raffle promo. The public was exhorted to text in their official receipt numbers, in the process gaining raffle points. They were also asked to text in those establishments that failed to issue receipts.

The response was overwhelming. As of September 2003, over two and half million entries – 63 percent of which came from Smart subscribers – were received by the BIR, proving that the service is a fast and efficient way of obtaining valuable data and real-time information. It was also a quick and inexpensive way of updating the BIR’s database. More importantly, it served as a reminder to those who are exactly religious in issuing receipts that they have no choice but to follow the laws of the land, lest a text message do them in. Five months after launching the service, the BIR has collected more than half a million pesos in penalties as a result of the "No OR" reports.

Taking the application further, the BIR has launched its own SMS service, "BIR Text." The service allows corporations to confirm if payments coursed through banks have been received by the BIR.

Office Of The President

Type TXT GMA <your message> and send to 0919-8984621, 0919-8984622 or 0919-8984623.

The best thing about texting is that ordinary citizens suddenly have access to their leaders. The Office of the President, for instance, has joined hands with telecommunications providers to open a direct communication channel to the President. The service allows people to – in SMS-speak – "TXT GMA" their mundane concerns. Information, requests and queries received through this service are collated by a special team at the Presidential Management Staff and forwarded to the Office of the President. These get a direct response from the President, instructing the sender, for example, to formalize complaints and recommendations through a formal letter.

These numbers may be accessed from any mobile phone or through the computer terminals of the Presidential Action Center, commonly referred to as the Tahanan ng Masa. Recognizing the seriousness with which Malacañang is pursuing this idea, Smart Communications has even installed three Nokia 6150s at the Tahanan ng Masa.

Social Security System

To register, type SSS REG <10-digit SSS number> <space> <date of birth MMDDYYYY> <space> <gender F or M> and send to 288.

SSS <info request*> <space> <10-digit SSS number> <space> <date of birth MMDDYYYY> and send to 288.

* for contributions, type SSS CONTRI * for status queries, type SSS SALSTAT * for loan information, type SSS LOAN

One of the major advantages offered by SMS technology is that it knows no geographical boundaries. Overseas Filipino workers can actually look after their paperwork, something that suffers when people move abroad, by themselves – wherever they are. For OFWs, the convenience is immense: no more letters of authorizations, no more having to ask relatives or friends to do follows-ups on their behalf, not having to line up in some government agency and lose a day away from their relatives on visits home.

Pioneering such services to OFWs is the Social Security System (SSS), whose "Text SSS" service is meant to assist more than 300,000 migrant workers who are members of the system. Based in territories like Hong Kong and Taiwan that do not offer social security for migrant workers, these OFWs pay their SSS contributions through accredited banks abroad, and are, quite understandably, curious to know if these have been credited to their SSS accounts. In the past, the only way they could monitor such payments was by inquiring through the consulate offices or by asking relatives back home to check with the SSS head office.

The SSS service, report the service providers, has been warmly received by migrant workers. Not only is the service convenient, it also reassures people who have to go far to earn a decent living. "This is most especially true in Brunei where Filipino garments workers don’t have time to go out of their boarding houses to check with us. Some of them got Smart SIMs and immediately checked their contributions," says Roberto Roldan, the SSS representative in Brunei.

The text service is well used by people right here at home. Among the inquiries that may be serviced through SMS are total number of contributions, updated total contributions, total advance contributions, and latest contribution date, aside from loan information (check number and date, amount of loan, monthly dues).

Department Of Foreign Affairs

Type TXT DFA <space> and send to 287 to receive instructions. Also providing services to migrant workers is the Department of Foreign Affairs which allows migrant workers and their relatives to post inquiries. The "TEXTDFA" service also allows for passport processing, and provides a directory of Philippine embassies abroad. "The idea is to provide the public with immediate access to the DFA so that their inquiries can be immediately addressed by our own personnel through text messaging," said the late former Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople.

Government Service Insurance System

GSIS <info request*> <space> <GSIS number> <space> <LASTNAME, FIRSTNAME> and send to 248.

* to register, type REG * for balance inquiries, type SLSTAT * for max. loan amount, type SLAMT

Philippine-based employees benefit as much from the service as their overseas counterparts. Recently, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) launched "GSIS Text," which handily answers government employees’ inquiries on their pension funds. GSIS Info-Text allows members to access information on their outstanding loan balance, inquire into the status of individual loan applications, and find out about their maximum loanable amount.

Indeed, text messaging has as many applications as government has needs. But what makes text messaging so powerful is its ability to bring power into the hands of the texters, who are no longer disadvantaged by lack of access to government. Through text messaging, the government can empower people sufficiently and make them rally to its causes.

Department Of Environment And Natural Resources

Send complaints, requests or queries relating to the environment to the DENR by sending them to 0918-9293367 (0918-WAW-DENR) from any GSM cellphone or landline.

Enemies of the environment have a foe in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ "TXT-DNR," which opens a line for all those who would do their bid in saving Mother Earth. Power problems find a resolution in the Department of Energy’s "EnerTXT."

Txt Against Drugs

Send all message/tips leading to the arrest of drug pushers and users to 0918-5165777.

Drug pushers will be forced into the open with the Quezon City government’s "Txt Against Drugs," the same way that the Philippine National Police’s "Magic Eye Patrol" uncovers petty criminals and offenders of the law.

Professionals are also reaping the advantages of texting. The Professional Regulation Commission has joined hands with Smart Communications to provide a dedicated text channel that will allow the public to make inquiries straight to the commission. Using keywords and an access number, subscribers can get information on license requirements and renewals, as well as exam schedules.

Indeed, the Philippines has come a long way where e-governance is concerned. For a country that isn’t even wired, text messaging has definitely made its mark.

(Source: Smart connect magazine, Issue No. 1)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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