As one of the oldest cities in the country alongside Cavite and Cebu, the City of Manila has become a behemoth of a metropolis, one of the fastest growing places in Asia, as well as the most populous urban area on Earth.
Even removed from the greater Metro Manila area, Manila City has long been one of the most highly urbanized cities in Southeast Asia and has been among the first cities to be considered a global city thanks to its integral role in the Spanish galleon trade.
During its history as the economic, cultural, and educational center of the country, Manila has naturally become a hub of investment and development.
The National Competitiveness Council of the Philippines, which annually publishes the Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index (CMCI), consistently ranks the city as one of the most competitive in the country according to its economic dynamism, government efficiency, and infrastructure. It is also widely considered to be one of the best places to live and do business.
As the country moves forward into the future, a question arises: After Manila City’s centuries-long progress, where do you take to next?
The answer, according to Manila’s leaders, is the digital world.
Back in 2021, the national government had expressed its commitment to six smart city projects during the 4th ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) Annual Meeting, which would bring cities like Manila, Cebu, and Davao into the future by equipping them with new technologies to adapt to the changing world.
Among the smart city projects which were showcased by the Department of Interior and Local Government for the country’s top cities, the Command Center Upgrade and E-government Services is proposed for Manila.
In pursuit of its goal of becoming a smart city, later that year, the City of Manila signed a partnership agreement with Microsoft to drive innovation and accelerate digital transformation in the capital city, potentially empowering more than two million citizens for the digital age.
“Our collaboration with Microsoft — a global leader in software, education, enterprise, digital and cloud technologies — accelerates our ambitions to build a 21st-century economy that lifts up our poor, improves job opportunities for our middle class, enhances how the City Government of Manila works internally and improves how we will deliver services externally and enhances our overall business and investment-friendly attractiveness, especially as we seek to recover from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” former Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso had said.
Since taking office in 2019, The administration of Mayor Domagoso has placed a premium on digital transformation. After becoming elected, he found that Manila lacked basic demographic information such as population, family composition, economic status, and educational attainment, among others. This drove his first act as mayor to establish a broad policy foundation to support automation and computerization of city processes, accelerate digitally-driven data gathering, and introduce technological advancements across all streams of governance, with the goal of enhancing Manila’s capacity to provide services to its more than two million citizens.
“City governments today have an opportunity to better serve their citizens through the power of technology. Artificial Intelligence, the cloud, and data can all be harnessed to increase efficiencies and improve everything from public safety, transportation, infrastructure and citizen services,” Andres Ortola, country general manager of Microsoft Philippines, had said of the partnership.
“The City of Manila has taken on an enormous challenge in their ambition to become a smart city and we look forward to working closely with them to support their transformation efforts and hopefully, to inspire and assist other government units and agencies across the Philippines as well.”
The collaboration has driven digital transformation across the city, with focus areas centered on helping Manila citizens become digitally literate, digitizing local government processes, and advancing information-based policymaking through the use of data.
Among the initiatives was Manila’s move to issue digital identification documents to all of its citizens, with an initial emphasis on the city’s estimated 350,000 poorest and most at-risk or vulnerable residents.
Even if they do not have access to a smartphone, the digital ID allowed people to sign up for services like welfare, schooling, job training, financial aid, and more.
Furthermore, to assist students in adapting to a rapidly evolving educational landscape, Microsoft has partnered with the Department of Education to provide free email addresses and Microsoft 365 accounts to all 290,000 students attending public schools in Manila.
Residents of Manila can take advantage of Microsoft’s skilling sites like LinkedIn, Github, MS Grounded, and many more to acquire cutting-edge digital abilities that employers are seeking.
Also part of the drive is the modernization of local government offices in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and adaptability of government employees in Manila. Microsoft and the City of Manila conducted a pilot program to roll out Microsoft Workplace to all 54 of the city’s executive departments. In order to better serve the people of Manila, attract new businesses, and attract tourists, the city government and Microsoft will be holding intensive training sessions for city officials on the new digital platform.
Finally, the partnership sought to improve data governance policies and better optimize the “Go Manila” platform, which is an endeavor to improve the city’s digital data infrastructure as a whole. To help the government map out its digital future, Microsoft provided its artificial intelligence tools and experts.
Maria Shielah H. Lacuna-Pangan, Manila City’s first female mayor — Photo by James Ambag / Department of Tourism Culture and Arts of Manila (DTCAM) of the City Gov’t of Manila
Maria Sheilah H. Lacuna-Pangan, who served as the vice-mayor during that period and was recently elected as Manila City’s first female mayor, emphasized her commitment to seeing initiatives enacted by her predecessor to push through.
Not only that, Mayor Lacuna-Pangan will also be doubling efforts towards initiatives that would benefit Manila’s poorest and most vulnerable, including pursuing free, high-quality healthcare on par with that found in for-profit facilities by transforming existing municipal health centers into “super health centers” by 2030.
The mayor has also instituted a push toward tourism that emphasizes Manila’s cultural legacy and plans to construct halfway houses for people living on the streets.
Ms. Lacuna-Pangan is also implementing initiatives that benefit women, focusing on providing assistance to single parents as more than 90% of single parents in Manila are women.
“We will continue the construction of complete facilities for the health, order, peace, prosperity, and security of all the people of Manila,” she said in Filipino during her inauguration.
“Expect continued delivery of quality services, care for our grandparents, the disabled, single parents, students, and teachers in public schools, the police, government employees, and ordinary citizens,” she added. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran