“PUBLIC CELL PHONE NUMBERS”

Opinion

By Ike Señeres

It’s really a grand irony that our country is the texting capital of the world, and yet not every government agency has a public cell phone number that anybody can send text messages to. Much more ironic than that, the few government agencies that have published their public cell phone numbers rarely ever respond to the text messages sent to them, and if they ever do, it really takes them a long time to do so. As I see it, our government agencies should behave very much like ordinary people do; that they should always reply to the text messages sent to them, and do so in the fastest possible time, out of love or out of respect, as the case may be.

It is said that in the Philippines, there are more cell phones than people, in much the same way that in New Zealand, there are more sheep than people. The analogy stops there however, because in New Zealand, they are making money from their sheep, while here in the Philippines, we are just spending money on our cell phones. Obviously, that is not a very productive way of using these devices that were put up using billions of pesos worth of infrastructure. If you wish however that there would be a more productive way of using these devices, why not use them as a means for the people to be able to contact the government as a way to complain about bad deeds or even compliment good deeds? I am sure that many citizens have lots of bad deeds to complain about, but we should also be open to the possibility that there could be many good deeds that would be worth complementing.

It may just be a play of words, but a citizen is also a customer, in much the same way that he is also a voter and a taxpayer. That should be enough reasons for government agencies to open their lines of communications so that they could be contacted by using any available means, not just via text messaging actually. Again, it may also be a play of words, but a report could also be a request, it much the same way that a complaint could also be a compliment. Either way or both ways, the bottom line is that anyone should be able to contact any government agency at any time, using any available device, using any means, and not just via text messaging.

According to statistics, about half of the cell phones out there are already smart phones, either with Apple or Android operating systems. What that means is that these smart phones are already capable of using mobile apps, even if these are still also capable of sending and receiving text messages. Based on my own estimates however, many owners of smart phones are still not using mobile apps, meaning to say that they would rather stick to sending and receiving text messages. Since 100% of cell phone owners of any type are capable of sending and receiving text messages, which should really justify why all government agencies, all the way down to the division level and the provincial offices should publish their public phone numbers.

Fortunately, there is now a mobile app (https://www.we.cards/) that could be used by all government agencies to publish their public phone numbers. Developed by the CCS Group (http://ccs.sg/), WeCards will actually enable the entire Philippine government to in effect have a mobile directory of all government agencies, again all the way down to the division level and the provincial offices. Not only that, it will enable the entire government to save on the printing of paper calling cards, because in effect, WeCards functions as an electronic calling card. Once the public cell phone number of any government agency is already in WeCards, anyone could send it not only text messages, but also email messages and chat messages, the latter via Facebook Messenger, Viber or WhatsApp, among others.

It’s another story, but the Philippines is also the call center capital of the world, and yet there are very few government agencies that have call centers that could be contacted by anyone at anytime. Fortunately, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has created Project 8888, and I am very fortunate to have been part of its conceptualization and implementation. My wish however is that it would evolve from receiving complaints to processing requests for services, in effect becoming a Customer Relations Management (CRM) facility that would be fully transactional, so that it could become a showcase not only of electronic governance, but also of open governance. I know for a fact that many companies are willing to help the government in doing that, among them the CCS Group.

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