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Free Wi-Fi available soon in 1,000 Bangsamoro barangays

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By Ali Macabalang

COTABATO CITY – Free Wi-Fi will be made available in local government units (LGUs) and schools in 1,000 pilot barangays in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to help the fledgling region cope with the pace of development in the country

The enabling memorandum of agreement (MoA) was inked here on June 26 by the BARMM’s Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MILG), the Department of Information, Communication and Technology (DICT) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the building of Tech-for-Aid centers in constituent-schools and local government units.

MILG-BARMM Minister Naguib Sinarimbo said his office was looking at digitalizing 1,000 barangay, initially in the provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.

BARMM, which replaced the 29-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, covers Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, this 36-village city, and 63 barangays in six North Cotabato towns. The region has a total of 2,589 barangays.

Fahad Zahid Sheikh, UNDP consultant and chief strategist of the Access to Information (A2I) in Bangladesh, said he was optimistic that better access to information improves the Human Development Index (HDI) of the benefitting communities.

Sheikh’s team met BARMM LGU representatives on Wednesday for a consultation on infusing the A2I Bangladesh concept it has developed as part of organizational enhancement UNDP intervention in the regional autonomy.

The project includes free public Wi-Fi access, with the Tech-for-Aid Centers serving as the “engines” of developing e-governance for LGUs as well as e-learning for provincial, municipal and barangay schools and public libraries.

Manan Butongkay, DICT provincial officer for clustered Regions 11 and 12 said 38 Tech-for-Aid Centers were being developed in Lanao del Sur and 20 in Maguindanao.

DICT officials said the national government’s priority institutional beneficiaries of the project are: 1) LGUs to help fight corruption; 2) schools to help improve learning tools for students in rural areas, and 3) the security sector to enhance communications facilities and internet access for military and police camps, so as to strengthen the government’s campaign against terrorism, the proliferation of dangerous drugs, and human trafficking.

Engr. Alla-Von Balabagan of the DICT Region 12 said Tech-for-Aid Centers are being initially established in Upi town in Maguindanao, and in some selected barangays of that municipality.

Sinarimbo said the digitalization project is geared towards developing good governance even in the remote villages of the region.

It will also be an effective learning support tool to level the playing field for barangays and city-based students in terms of access to e-learning opportunities.