, DECEMBER 9, 2006
  (STAR) HINDSIGHT By Josefina T. Lichauco - An accomplishment certainly worth reporting on is the recent victory of the Philippines in regaining a seat in the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) Council. In 2002, the DOTC (Department of Transportations and Communications) leadership decided not to run for re-election after the victory of the Philippines in 1998, when our country topped the elections and even had more votes than the United States, the host country that year. As I have mentioned in the past, the ITU is the largest United Nations agency. It is the world body that governs world telecom and information technology.

We had missed out on one term in the council, and it was the wrong time to be absent in it because it was within that term when very senior telecom executives from the Philippines, while in a conference in Honolulu – the Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC), which is supposed to foster cooperation among members of the international telecommunity – were unceremoniously served subpoenas in their hotel rooms, with some even in their pajamas. It was a grave international incident. In effect, the Philippine telecom carriers were accused of collusion with one another as regards termination rates with correspondent US carriers. I wrote about this disgusting action of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), the US regulatory body for telecom, soon after it happened.

This FCC action was undertaken at the time when the Philippines was not a member of the ITU Council. If our country had been a member at that time, I am certain a resolution expressing revulsion and disgust would have been initiated by the Philippine council member, but the DOTC leadership decided at that time to drop the pursuit of another term of four years.

This is not the only reason we should retain membership in the council. There are so many vital issues because of the astonishing pace of technology that, as a leader of the telecom developing world, it is important for the Philippines to be in this decision-making body. It was therefore exciting for me to find out that the recent decision of the DOTC leadership was for the Philippines to run for a council seat and regain membership in the council.

And the Philippine delegation did the country proud, headed by Secretary Ramon Sales, who is chairman of the CICT (Commission on Information and Communications Technology). To regain a seat is, of course, a more difficult effort than to retain one, and I would like to pay tribute to the members of the Philippine delegation who worked hard and demonstrated excellent teamwork. They were former National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) chairman Atty. Ronald Solis, who was the deputy head of the Philippine delegation and was principally responsible for the strategies employed by the Philippines because he was the acting head of the delegation most of the time, having been called back by a higher authority.

The other members of the delegation who were in Turkey where the ITU plenipotentiary conference was held were Atty. Jorge Sarmiento, who is currently NTC deputy commissioner; Atty. Lorenzo Formoso III, commissioner of the CICT; Atty. Kathleen Heceta, consultant of the CICT and the NTC; Engr. Philip A. Varilla OIC, Telecom Policy and Planning Division (TPPD), CICT; Engr. Pricilla Demition, chief of the Frequency Management Division, NTC; Engr. Gina E. Rodriguez, senior communications development officer, CICT.

From the private sector, the members were Atty. Rodolfo A. Salalima, senior vice president for corporate and regulatory affairs, Globe Telecom; Atty. Rogelio V. Quevedo, group head of "Wholesale Business," Smart; Atty. William Pamintuan, senior vice president, legal services, Digitel; Engr. Alfredo B. Carrera, first vice president for regulatory and telecom industry regulations, PLDT; Engr. Anthony R. Fernandez, manager, "Wholesale Business," Smart; Atty. Juan Lorenzo T. Tanada, chief, corporate legal policy and regulatory affairs, Broadband Philippines; and Alexander Rey Bengzon, head, regulatory policy department, Globe Telecom.

Congratulations on your excellent teamwork and dedication to the effort to regain our country’s membership in the council!

The veterans from past plenipotentiary conferences starting in 1989, when I was privileged to head the delegation, up to 1998, which was the last one I headed, are Kathy Heceta, who was my deputy, Rudy Salalima, Roger Quevedo, Bill Pamintuan, and Maricor Akol, who was listed as a delegate this year, but was not able to attend.

Current NTC deputy commissioner Jorge Sarmiento, who was a former postmaster-general, gave me a significant statement when I interviewed him: "We were able to achieve this feat because of the great help provided by the telecom private sector (Globe, PLDT, Smart, Innove, Digitel and Broadband Philippines), who were represented in the delegation and were with the government representatives throughout the campaign. Public-private sector cooperation was at its best."

This is absolutely true. I personally witnessed the excellent teamwork, from 1989 to the 1998 conference. I mentioned in a past article on the ITU that winning for one’s country was a feeling "better than sex." At the wake of Roger Quevedo’s mother a few days ago, Rudy Salalima reiterated this piece of levity in the presence of Pope Solis, Jorge Sarmiento, Bill Pamintuan, and Anthony Fernandez, and these Filipino macho males agreed.

Rudy Salalima is one of the veterans, and is a legal luminary of Globe Telecom. He provided me with an on-the-spot account as the election results were being canvassed last week in Turkey. So with Roger Quevedo, who is also a veteran and corporate luminary himself at Smart, Jorge Sarmiento also gave me intermittent reports (I thank them all for this).

Atty. Salalima tells me now that, "Apart from the government’s and the private sector’s solid support for the Philippine candidacy, the election of the Philippines can be attributed to the good image the Philippines has earned through the years. The delegates were one in saying that the Philippines is needed in the ITU council given the Philippine track record of active participation, particularly in the discussion of substantive issues, policies and concerns affecting the Union."

It is Atty. Kathy Heceta who indeed is the longest-standing veteran. She was my deputy head of delegation throughout those conferences I had successively headed. When I resigned from the Estrada administration, I was the incoming chairman/president of the ITU Council, having been elected as vice chairman the year before, which guarantees an automatic assumption of the presidency the year after. It was Kathy, who was then an NTC deputy commissioner, who assumed the presidency. She is presently adviser and consultant for the CICT and the NTC.

The newly elected Secretary General of the ITU is Dr. Hammadoun Touré of Mali, who visited the Philippines in late October to obtain support for his candidacy as ITU head. He indicated then that he wanted to meet with me. For the day and a half that Doun Touré was in town, aside from some meetings with CICT and NTC officials, he was guest of honor at a dinner I gave in my home. It was such a pleasant reunion with the veteran members of the delegation and other former delegates.

Touré won on an exciting third ballot. I am glad he did because I have always known him as an outstanding international functionary. In my interview with him soon after he won, via cell phone, he stated that his platform is three-pronged: 1) addressing the digital divide; 2) global emergency communications; and 3) cybersecurity.

He also said that his victory, and hence, the opportunity to serve as the head of ITU, was "better than sex"!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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