US to help build Philippines e-gov’t infrastructure

A group of American businessmen will meet with Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Cabinet officials this week to help design the country’s e-government infrastructure.

The meeting will mark the first time in the Arroyo administration that a U.S. business group would be able to meet with all of the President’s Cabinet members to tackle the development of information and communications technology (ICT) in the government sector.

Officials of the U.S.-Philippines Business Council, a private business organization composed of leading U.S. firms in the country, will conduct the forum, dubbed the “Cabinet Forum: Harnessing ICT for Effective Governance,” which is aimed at building a partnership with the government that will help push the development of an ICT architecture for the Philippines.

In the meeting, the US business leaders are expected to share their knowledge and expertise in developing an e-government infrastructure.

Open Source

A Computerworld Philippines source said another possible topic that may be taken up during the meeting is the role of open source software.

Although the Philippine government has remained neutral on the issue of commercial versus open source software, a growing business concern across the region is the seemingly snowballing trend of governments adopting policies that tend to favor the use of open source software for government ICT needs.

One country, Malaysia, has already released a new government policy that gives preference to open source in computer software purchases for government offices.

The Cabinet Forum, which will be held on November 11-12, is the second major meeting between the President and U.S. businessmen. In September, 43 officials from 21 American firms met with the President — the largest U.S. contingent, so far, to do so after President Arroyo’s election — to discuss various issues, including: free trade, trade and investment framework, capital market development, customs modernization, port security, biotechnology, and information technology. The November forum will, for the first time, give U.S. businessmen access to high-level Cabinet officials to discuss ICT promotion and development.

Walter Lohman, executive director and vice president of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, which is organizing the event jointly with the Philippines’ Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), said, in a letter to President Arroyo, that US business interests in the country have been growing and that they are optimistic about new opportunities for trade and investment in the country.

He added that U.S. firms are committed to invest more technology and capital in the country to help bolster its growth.

“The timing of our mission is critical. American business really likes what it sees by way of this new administration’s commitment to reform,” Lohman wrote. “International markets should recognize that the Philippines is seizing the initiative and that their progress will be followed by American investment commitments.”

Bold Action

Ernest Z. Bower, president of the business council, added that US firms are very keen on investing in the country. “American business is stepping up to the President’s call for bold action,” he said. He continued: “We are not waiting to support progress, we are helping to push it with IT and energy project proposals and with advocacy for the Philippines on intellectual property rights (IPR) and trade security. That is our mandate, to help build the Philippine economy with our full participation and our strongest efforts.”

Included among the big US companies who met with the President in September were: Boeing, East Asia Power, El Paso Energy International, Federal Express, Flour Corporation, Ford Motors Company, Philip Morris Asia Ltd., Microsoft Corporation, Oracle Corporation, Quezon Power (Philippines) Limited, Unisys Corporation, Tyco Integrated System and UPS.

The U.S. remains the Philippines’ top investor and trading partner with direct investments of US$4.7 billion in 2003. The two-way trade between the two countries reached US$7.3 billion in the first six months of 2004. The Philippines and the U.S. are advancing a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement that will pave the way for negotiations on a U.S.-Philippines Free Trade Agreement in the future.

The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council is America’s leading private business organization dedicated to promoting increased trade and investments between the Unites States and the member-nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Its membership includes 150 of the Fortune 500 companies with trade and investment interests in the ASEAN region.

The council members represent diverse industries, including aerospace, agribusiness, automobiles, computers and information technology, media and entertainment industry, consumer goods, energy exploration and development, express delivery services, financial services, health care and pharmaceuticals, mining, software, and telecommunications.

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