First National Congress
6-7 December 2004, Cebu City, Philippines

Keynote Speech
H.E. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President of the Republic of the Philippines

Thank you and congratulations! For easy sailing in the confirmation on appointments.

Congressman Raul del Mar, Congresswoman Neri Soon-Ruiz, thank you for staying up all night up to the wee hours of the morning to pass the budget of the department of education and the whole government. Councilor Jakosalem of Cebu city; Ambassador Bobby Romulo, Chairman of Fit-Ed; Ambassador Tony Basilio, President of Fit-Ed; beloved teachers; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.

Because you represent the whole country, let me begin by expressing my gratefulness for the response of the entire country in the face of the suffering that you have seen and felt in eastern Luzon.

I'm awed by the outpouring of unity and solidarity to ease the pain of misfortune. I'd like to acknowledge of presence of Ambassador Sagaz of Spain. also, the President of the Mayors League of the Philippines, Mayor Ramon Guico of Binalonan. I would also like to thank Spain and the many other countries and multilateral institutions that have generously poured out their support for our relief and rehabilitation efforts.

The least we can do to repay all the solidarity and generosity is to exercise the political will to change the political social and economic landscape so that our people will no longer be exposed to this horrible fate in the hands of nature, and so that extreme poverty will never again take the people down the road to perdition. Whether it concerns the environment, our politics or our economy, we cannot leave our fate to chance. We must learn to live by the law and the standards of civility and commonality or we all perish.

I say this today, as we face multiple challenges and as we put our fiscal house in order and grow our economy to create jobs and build infrastructure. Before coming to this meeting... Well, before attending to the calamities, I was away. As Yoyong was about to come, I was in a meeting of the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Laos a week ago. And there, the leaders of ASEAN agreed to fast-track the integration of eleven priority sectors into a regional market. And among these priorities is E-Asean which falls squarely into the concerns of those attending this Congress. I.C.T. has become an economic lifeline to thousands of Filipino families. Just before coming here earlier this morning, I came from the inauguration of Telecare, the most awarded call center company in the world and the biggest Asia-based call center company. It was set up in the I.T. park called Asia Town. Last year, Asia Town did not exist. Today, a year later, Asia Town has within its premises one hundred million a month in salaries and wages. This is what I.C.T. can mean to our people.

Today, the Filipino diaspora is eight million in number. It has served as a steady fulcrum of our economy. But as we embraced the speed of new technology -- yes, we will see more of our people working for overseas employers but not there -- they'll be working right here in our homeland. In a reversal of roles, we shall attract foreign companies to pour their investments and share the technology within our territorial boundaries. And we already see it happening in Telecare, in Asia Town, and that's only Cebu. We've seen it happening in Eastwood, in Pasig, in Clark, in Davao, in Negros oriental, all over the country.

Before I became president in 2001, there were only 1,500 call center seats. Today, there are already almost 60,000 BPO and call center agents and counting, waiting for the educational system to produce them through you.

And even as we lay the groundwork for regional economic integration, for instance, Japan has already shown remarkable interest in our country's potential as Asia's best site for business outsourcing. A few days ago, five big Japanese I.C.T. firms firmed up their plans to locate their offshore operations in the Philippines. The owners of these companies are convinced that the skills of our knowledge workers produced by you, our teachers, especially in computer programming and web page proficiency will add to their competitiveness and profits.

And we too as a country will profit as the Philippines strengthens its niche in business outsourcing as more Japanese, European and American firms turn to Filipino knowledge workers. We gain 118 percent growth in I.T. and electronic investments in the first 10 months of this year alone. These investments in this 10 months will create 25,000 jobs and a multiplier of 175,000 more, part of what we want to achieve to create 6 to 10 million jobs over the next 6 years.

For business process outsourcing, we have the potential to capture half of all the call center of regions in the world in the next five years, but it all depends on you, our dear teachers, because you must keep churning out the supply of knowledge workers to fulfill this potential.

The most daunting challenge facing our teachers and schools today is not only to produce all these knowledge workers of which there's a great demand but also to ensure that educational system itself drives the great future of I.C.T. in the Philippines.

Our children must acquire the knowledge, the skills, the attitudes required by the knowledge economy on a broader and deeper scale. To do all these, we must work as a team. Our teachers are the key. The life of the knowledge economy begins in the classroom. You, the teachers, must be in the frontline of innovation, continually seeking out new and better ways of teaching. You must continually seek new technology, befriend it and not be caught in a time warp of traditional but outdated modes of instruction.

To the education administrators, local government officials, parent-teacher associations and other I.C.T. institutions, you must sustain your initiatives to integrate information technology in basic education. And I encourage higher educational institutions and NGOs to continue forming partnerships with schools in basic education and schools in higher education, schools in the skills educational institutions to create more professional development opportunities for teachers and education administrators to facilitate the sharing of learning resources and to push I.C.T. innovation in classrooms.

I ask Butch Abad, "do we have a lot of NGOs doing what fit-ed is doing?" Yes, he said we do have a lot of NGOs working on I.C.T. education but we have to upgrade the level of service that they're doing and to integrate them all. And that is why I commend all of you for organizing this congress and setting the directions for the implementation of the restructured basic education curriculum.

I'm so happy to be here because I see being put into motion three things I said in my inaugural address. In my inaugural address, I described a vision that would be my legacy. I said that by the end of my presidency, there'll be 6 to 10 million new jobs, many of those will come from I.C.T., BPO, call centers. I said that by the end of my term, everyone of school age will be in school in an uncrowded classrooms, in surroundings conducive to learning. What do we mean by surrounding conducive to learning? This includes computers in every public high school and increase in the number of schools with internet access.

In my inaugural address, I also said that the network of digital infrastructure on which my government embarked in the last three years will have linked the entire country. And to make sure that this is so, I have instructed the commission on I.C.T. to draw a clear road map to connect the whole country including high speed broadband transmission services, local exchange telephone services, cellular mobile telephone services, and yes, I.C.T. education from basic education, high school, tertiary education and post-secondary education.

Ten million jobs, surroundings conducive to learning, digital infrastructure to link the entire country -- this is part, a great part of my vision for the 21st century. I invite you to be a part of this vision.

Congratulations! Mabuhay!

Thank you.