The use of mobile phones in the Philippines has brought better information access for farmers, broader citizen engagement and link to traffic data for taxi drivers, according to a new World Bank report.
The country also witnessed one of the first uses of text messaging as a medium for social change during the EDSA II revolt in 2001 that led to the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada, the study cited.
According to the report “Information and Communications for Development: Maximizing Mobile,” which was released on Monday, there were 101 mobile cellular subscriptions for every 100 people in the Philippines in 2011, a jump from 41 subscriptions for every 100 people in 2005.
The report defined mobile cellular subscriptions as subscriptions to a public mobile telephone service using cellular technology, which provided access to the public switched telephone network. Postpaid and prepaid subscriptions were included. But it said that mobile subscriptions did not reflect actual mobile phone ownership since there could be multiple subscriptions.
Worldwide, the number of mobile subscriptions grew from one billion in 2000 to more than six billion in 2011, of which nearly five billion were in developing countries, the report said.
In 2011, 96 percent of the total mobile cellular subscriptions in the Philippines were prepaid.
In 2010, mobile cellular network in the Philippines covered 99 percent of the population and 80 percent of households reported ownership of a mobile telephone.
The World Bank cited the Philippines as an example in using mobile’s potential to strengthen accountability and transparency in public services and processes.
In particular, it said that the Department of Education has worked with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific to set up a website that allowed the citizens to view significant statistics on local schools.
The site, called checkmyschool.org, is a government-to-citizen online and mobile-based interactive tool that includes information such as budget allocations, teacher and textbook information and test scores for about a fifth of the 44,000 schools in the country, the report said.
It is also an avenue for teachers and parents to express areas of concern that they feel should be addressed.
The site, which seeks to improve education service delivery through transparent and accountable behavior by school staff, has improved community participation and vigilance and teacher behavior, the World Bank said.
“These efforts are typically innovative because they often change the delivery or management of a conventional service or process,” the report said.
Commercial farmers in the Philippines also benefited from accessing price information through mobile phones, reporting income gains and increase in trust of traders, the report cited.
Prior to the expansion of mobile networks, agricultural producers were often unaware about prices and had to rely on information from traders and agents, the report said.
“Delays in obtaining this data or misinterpretation of second-hand pricing information has serious consequences for agricultural producers, who may end up underselling their products, delivering too little or too much of the product, or having their products wither away,” the World Bank said.
The study also mentioned Cebu City where taxi drivers use mobile phones with global positioning systems to receive traffic data and dispatch information.
The report added that social media, along with messages, videos and pictures sent from mobile phones, were useful tools for organizing protests and monitoring democracy and freedom.
“Mobile communications offer major opportunities to advance human and economic development—from providing basic access to health information to making cash payments, spurring job creation, and stimulating citizen involvement in democratic processes,” said World Bank vice president for sustainable development Rachel Kyte.
“The challenge now is to enable people, businesses and governments in developing countries to develop their own locally relevant mobile applications so they can take full advantage of these opportunities,” Kyte added.