By JV Manglicmot
For years, internet governance advocates from the Philippines have been eager to localize and hold our own national Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The IGF is a platform for stakeholders from various sectors to discuss concerns and policies revolving around the internet.
In the past few years, there has been a global trend to localize the IGF. As of writing, there are at least 76 national IGFs and 17 regional IGFs worldwide, with the Philippines having yet to host its own.
Last August 14-16, The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), along with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and Internet Society – Philippines Chapter (ISOC-PH), participated in the APrIGF via a remote hub. There were several sessions in the APrIGF; however, due to limitations such as the time difference between Vanuatu and the Philippines, and other logistical reasons, only six sessions were streamed at the hub. The selected sessions were as follows:
- Sharing Best Practices and Concerns of NRIs in Asia Pacific Region
- Community Networks- Internet access for the community by the community
- Cross border Data & Contents Regulation in Asia Pacific Region
- Youth participation Fills in Gaps, Niches Too
- Internet Restrictions in Asia Pacific Region and how to Mitigate
- Closing Plenary
I was one of the staff members from FMA who attended the said activity. Though remotely, it was my first time to participate in an IGF.
Case study: National, subregional, regional and youth IGF initiatives
One of the sessions that was streamed at the remote hub was that on best practices and concerns of national, subregional, regional and youth IGF initiatives (NRIs) in the Asia-Pacific Region. During this session, representatives of each participant country were asked the following questions:
- Do you have a national, regional, or local IGF?
- How frequent does your IGF event or activities connect to the members?
- Do you use online connection with members? What platforms are you using?
- How about face-to-face meetings? How often? Monthly? Bi-monthly? Or once a year?
- Is it an annual event? Is it a one-day program or does it have multiple days?
- What is the membership number? How many were online and offline?
- Raise 3 of the most popular topics in your IGF.
- Is the government involved? How? Is there financial support from your government?
- What’s the role of government in your IGF? Any communication between civil society to government?
- Are there any connections to other regional or national IGF?
Several countries spoke about their experiences in internet governance – from holding their own national IGFs to participating in regional IGFs. Many countries stated that they conduct their national IGFs annually, which would usually last for multiple days. In terms of number of participants, the number ranges from a hundred to more than two thousand. The popular topics among national IGFs include cyber security, online privacy, misinformation and fake news, internet restrictions, access and connectivity, and digital economy.
It was enlightening to hear about experiences of various countries in having their own IGFs. It was evident that every IGF experience was different from the other. Even the concerns surfacing from each country were different. Taiwan, for example, stated that popular issues from their national IGF were on misinformation (fake news) and on blockchain. This was different from Sri Lanka’s priority topic, which was having safer ICTs.
Listening to other countries’ experiences made me ponder, “What about the Philippines? If we had an IGF, what priority topics would we have? How would it look like in terms of number and diversity of participants? What events would take place and who would the speakers be?” It is exciting to think of the limitless possibilities when we visualize finally having our own national IGF.
Sustainability of IGF
After the sharing among APrIGF participants, the floor was opened for questions. One of the questions was on how to make the IGF sustainable. A common observation that surfaced was that every country has its own experience with IGF initiatives and therefore requires a response and strategy best suited to its needs. Some countries have their NRIs financially supported by the government, while some receive sponsorship, while others would have nominal fees.
Regardless of how they are funded, IGFs must remain non-commercial. One of the speakers reiterated that sponsors and funders are welcome as long as they do not become the owners of the IGF. After all, the IGF is made by the community for the community – and like the internet, internet governance has no owners.
If the Philippines will be having an IGF soon, then sustainability would be one of the primary concerns. The question raised during the APrIGF was very important. After all, seeing how an IGF can be an important platform where multiple stakeholders can discuss issues and concerns relating to the internet, there is a strong need to make it sustainable. After the question of when can we have our own IGF, the next question is how do we make sure that the first IGF is also not the last one.
Towards a Philippine IGF
Beginning this year, FMA is set to hold four internet governance roadshows nationwide. There will be one roadshow respectively for Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and Metro Manila. One of the goals of the roadshow is to bring internet governance to various areas in the country.
Faithful to the concept of multistakeholderism, the internet governance roadshows will convene members of the academe, government, technical community, private entities, and civil society to collaborate and discuss emerging internet-related issues in their respective communities.
The roadshow initiative is a follow-up to last year’s Internet Governance Colloquium, which was also organized by FMA, DICT, and ISOC-PH. However, it was noted that the said colloquium was Metro Manila-centric, thus the need to reach out to other areas in the Philippines before creating a Philippine IGF.
With the roadshows coming to fruition, FMA, along with DICT and ISOC-PH, is hopeful that a Philippine national IGF will happen soon – and I, for one, am very excited to see and experience it.