E-Commerce, Founders, Government, Philippines, Startups

Who Should Be DICT Secretary? 5 Pegs for your Consideration.


Aside from an acronym that can be the basis of a whole generation of Facebook memes, one thing that is worth pointing out about the Philippines’ new Department of Information and Communications Technology is that it’s a startup.

And like any startup, the founding team will play a crucial role. The DICT’s founding team needs a secretary, 3 under secretaries, and 4 assistant secretaries.

Who should they be?

Let’s start with the DICT is supposed to do. Section 6 of Republic Act 10844 – the law that created the department – lists the following powers and functions as its mandate:

1. Policy and planning: creating national ICT programs, promote ICT in education along with the DepED, CHED, and TESDA, and optimize all government ICT resources.

2. Public access:  creating rules for the establishment of ICT services in underserved areas; provide for free internet access in government offices and public areas.

3. Resource sharing and capacity-building: harmonize and coordinate ICT initiatives across government agencies, develop an integrated government ICT infrastructure, and assist in providing technical expertise to government agencies.

4. Consumer protection and industry development: ensure privacy rights, support investment promotion in ICT, and form international and local partnerships to drive ICT.

These are huge tasks. #3 alone hurts my brain, just thinking of the amount of work involved. The sheer magnitude of bureaucracy, national and local needs, vested interests, fragmented technical resources, and a technology landscape moving at hyper speed make failure intrinsically built into the job.

And this is why we need only the best to be leading the DICT. Though it would be hard to pin down exactly who the best person for the job is, I can wager a bet on who should NOT be even considered.

First, no lawyers. We have enough lawyers in government. If you look at the details of the DICT’s mandate, a huge portion of its success relies on strong collaboration and coordination with a multitude of organizations: telcos, technology providers, service providers, other executive departments, local government units, quasi-judicial agencies, and international bodies.

The DICT secretary will have to balance the competing tensions of a tech environment moving faster than the starship Enterprise traveling at warp 9.9 and the slow, lackadaisical way the average local leader makes decisions. Any entrepreneur who tried to selling to Filipino organizations knows this.

I have a lot of smart lawyer friends. The smartest ones play to their strengths and know what they are not: effective managers at scale. The DICT secretary should essentially be a manager who knows how to get things done through people. His output is the output of other people.

Also: the fine print. The DICT involves the reorganization and merger of existing agencies from the DOTC (which will be subsequently renamed simply as the Department of Transportation). The DICT needs manager who has done post-merger integration work. And as any human resources chief can attest, this is no small feat.

Second, should it be a telco person? I’m torn. Though it may be tempting to think that an alum from any of the two telcos could do the job, I’m leaning that the DICT secretary probably shouldn’t be a telco alum. Providing free internet access in government offices is a tremendous and expensive initiative alone. We wouldn’t want even the slightest perception of a conflict of interest. See the rabid reaction to Mark Villar’s appointment to the DPWH as a case in point.

Also, the NTC will become an attached agency of the DICT. And with the President’s drive to force the local providers to speed up the internet, we’d probably need a DICT secretary who can be tougher, more provocative, and more strong-willed to get things done.

Gerry Ablaza and Polly Nazareno, for instance, are both genuinely nice guys; the former is the ex-CEO of Globe (and currently runs Manila Water) while the latter just retired from Smart. But since both are above 60, I wouldn’t wish on them the grueling grind of working 80-hour weeks to get the DICT established and fully functional. They’ve both had stellar careers and they deserve an easier life. Let’s simply get them as advisory board members.

Which leads me to this part of the negative list – the DICT secretary shouldn’t be a sunset leader in his 60s who thinks this is a just a ceremonial post. At the risk of sounding ageist, we wouldn’t someone who can’t routinely work 15-hour days. There’s gonna be a lot of intense shit going to get this job done that it’s gotta be taken as seriously as a first year associate entering McKinsey or Goldman Sachs does.

But seriously, it should be someone who intuitively understands the innovation economy.

S/he must speak the language of the internet’s infrastructure, platform economics, net neutrality, cloud computing, and big data, among others.

S/he must be student of technology history, and how nations made the leap through technological advancement.

S/he must have spent time in the Valley. Or studied the technology trajectories of Japan, Singapore, Korea, or Taiwan. S/he must have witnessed the dawn of the internet in the Philippines. S/he must know the reasons why the future of the digital economy in the country rests with small businesses, not the big conglomerates. S/he must know who Ada Lovelace is.


The local fashion industry likes to use the word “peg” as a term to describe a look, style, or palette to imitate. So in a nutshell, here are 5 quick pegs on which kind of leaders we’ll need at the DICT founding team.

The Operator

Think Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. This is the uber-manager who is both a captain and soldier, a strategist and tactician, a general and a diplomat. The Operator gets things done not just within a small team, but with a vast array of often conflicting constituents in pursuit of a common mission.


The Product Visionary

This is the young gun who boldly goes where no one has gone before. That is my 2nd second Star Trek reference in this post, so I’ll just stop right there. But seriously, this is someone like Chris Hughes, who helped create the technology backbone of the Obama campaign (and a Facebook co-founder).


The Product Visionary gets digital media and has an intuitive understanding of how users interact with technology to make their lives better. S/he has a design & user experience background, and can for instance, design easier ways to file taxes online, or renew drivers’ licenses, or apply for passports.

The Platform Builder

Think Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who spent a more than decade building platforms such as Maps, Gmail, Chrome, and Android.

SundarPichai129-information week

A Platform Builder running the DICT would bring a step-change in how e-government works. For instance, imagine a one-stop Singapore-style online portal for business registration. Doing so would require integrating the back-ends of various agencies involved in the process, from the SEC, BIR, and DTI to LGUs, PhilHealth and SSS.

The Data Guy

This is the country’s chief data scientist, tying together all the data-related initiatives of the government such as Data.gov.ph,  or helping Comelec prevent another data leak. Think someone like DJ Patil, the chief data scientist of the United States.  S/he can help predict and counter emerging cyber security threats.

DJ Patil - Gigaom

The Insider

This is the career executive who has spent decades working in tech. S/he started in engineering, then moved up the ranks in management to lead teams with an ever increasing scope and complexity, and eventually becoming responsible for an entire platform.


Someone like Minerva Tantoco – the Filipino American CTO of New York City and who spent many years in the technology side of financial services – would be perfect for this. The incoming DICT team should definitely have her on their advisory board.

Bonus: An army of Bertram GilfoylesYeah, the DICT would likely also need an army of guys who can get shit done without caring for the politics-induced BS that comes with the territory. And guys like that won’t work for the kind of guy rumored to be angling for the post.


What kind of leader should be DICT secretary? Chime in below.


Who Should Withdraw, Mar or Grace? The Data Says Mar Should.

As of May 7, Rodrigo Duterte is about to win the presidency.

When Duterte first announced his candidacy,  I seriously considered him because of his policy of making it fast and easy to register businesses in Davao. As a startup founder scarred by red tape, bribe attempts from the SEC and Makati City Hall, and the despotic tax system, I was genuinely intrigued.

But based on all the evidence I’ve come across, I’ve come to the conclusion that Mar Roxas is a better fit for the job.

My emotions and grievances want me to support Duterte. But reason dictates that my vote goes to Mar.

I’ve weighed any potential benefits with the greater risks that a Duterte presidency can bring. The cussing and womanizing I can personally live with. But the extra-judicial killings, his treasonous and idiotic approach to China, and this lack of understanding of the economic & technological forces that can sink the BPO industry and our OFW remittances – all these are existential threats to the very idea of a “Philippines”.

Nations fail all the time. And we almost always underestimate how fragile our way of life is. This is the 30th year of our little democracy project in these islands. Duterte could push us to the precipice.

Winning in the Home Stretch

SWS and Pulse Asia show that he is number one, with a 30-33% lead. And contrary to what people say about the 2010 vice-president race, the surveys have always gotten the presidential race right. They may have been mistaken on the 3rd ranked candidates in the past, but that hardly matters right?

Rodrigo Duterte’s Facebook engagement numbers are off the roof. Even Google thinks he’s won already.

Can he be stopped? Unlikely. Given that both Mar and Grace have split 40-45% of the vote, and the last minute momentum that make the undecided vote gravitate to the frontrunner.

So it’s with the same rationality that made me conclude that Mar is right for the job that makes me realize that the best chance for stopping a Duterte presidency is for Mar to withdraw and back Grace. Not the other way around.

I’m writing this because at this point, Mar and Grace are probably trapped in an echo chamber of supporters, where the voice of reason and the triple threats of the confirmation bias, the availability bias, and loss aversion are amplified by group think and the fatalism of Filipino culture. We will win. Good will prevail. We will fight, are all shades of the same fatalism.

So I’m going to write this as objectively as possible. And if you feel queasy confronting data & evidence, I’m sorry but this is what the numbers bear out.

Pulse Asia’s Vote Diffusion Question

What most people don’t realize is that Pulse Asia asks a second choice question and then breaks down this preference within specific voting groups. So for instance, we can see among Duterte supporters, what % prefers Grace, Mar, etc as a second choice.

Pulse Asia calls this 1st to 2nd choice diffusion and it is useful in understanding where votes go if either Grace or Mar withdraws. I averaged out the diffusion percentages of three Pulse Asia surveys, March 8-12, April 19-24, and April 26-29.

* The way this question was asked is: “If your chosen candidate does not pursue his/her candidacy for whatever reason, whom among the remaining people would you for as President if the elections were held today?” The question also doesn’t prevent respondents from naming their 1st choice as their 2nd choice too – “Si Duterte talaga eh, wala nang iba”, is an answer that approximates this.

Across all voting groups, Grace is the dominant 2nd choice. For example:

  • 38% of Duterte supporters have Grace as a 2nd choice (an important consideration – and I’ll get back to this later).
  • 45% of Binay supporters have Grace as a 2nd choice, and
  • 41% of Mar supporters pick Grace as a 2nd choice.

Elections PostIf you zero in to Grace vs Mar, you’ll clearly see that more Mar voters will be attracted to Grace, rather than the other way around. 41% of Roxas voters pick Grace as 2nd choice. Only 24% of Grace voters pick Mar as 2nd choice.

Elections Post-1

Who are the other picks of Grace voters? Binay (27%) and Duterte (19%). This gives credence to the argument that Duterte’s base will get even stronger if Grace was the one who pulled out.

Now if you assume 54.4 million registered voters, a 75% voter turnout (like the previous election), you get a base of 40.8 million votes up for grabs. (Hey, that could’ve been a PR campaign of GrabTaxi, yes? GRABVOTE = click on this app and a vote buyer will appear where you are to bid for your vote. Wait sorry, my ADHD kicked-in. Back to the math).

If you then average out the previous 3 Pulse Asia Surveys, Duterte ends up with 30% of the votes, equivalent to more than 12 million votes. This ignores any last minute momentum effects that could push his lead to more than 35%.

Elections Post-2

If Mar pulls out, asks his base to consolidate support for Grace, where could it go? Based on his diffusion numbers, Grace could gain more than 3 million votes.

Elections Post-3

This could be higher (if Mar is convincing enough and people rally to Grace) or lower (if the limited time prevents him from getting the message across).

The effect of this brings Grace ~9 million votes to within striking distance of Duterte’s 12 million. Duterte of course will gain some votes from Mar, approximate 1 million+ based on the diffusion numbers.

Elections Post-4

What will turn the tide?

Enter the most powerful group of people in this election: the roughly 2 million Undecided voters.

What  the press also seemed to miss is that the Pulse Asia survey also had a question buried deep that allowed us to get clues on where the 5% of Undecideds could go.

After someone says that in the 1st choice question that they are “undecided”, they are also asked the 2nd choice question. In that question, around 20% gave an answer. And among this 20%, the split are: 43% Grace, 19% Binay, 16% Duterte, 11% Roxas.

43% of ~2 million people gives Grace another 800,000+ votes, enough to turn the tide into a narrow Grace victory. In addition, the opposition rallying around Grace would matter to the close to 40% of Duterte supporters (4 million+ people) who picked Grace as their 2nd choice. Even if just 10% of these people switch last minute (400,000) gives Grace a clear 1.2 million vote lead (800k + 400k) over Duterte.

Elections Post-5

A lot of things need to happen in so short a time for this scenario to come true.

But if Mar, Grace, Jojo, and Miriam truly believe Duterte is a threat to our democracy, they have the power to make this happen – if they just need to remove their ego out of the equation and listen to the evidence.

They should try because the alternative – a Leni VP victory leading to an LP-initiated impeachment against Duterte – does more damage to our institutions than this last-minute rally.

On a personal note, I think the conversations between Mar and Grace would be completely different if they had  top-notch data science teams instead of PR motherfuckers surrounding them. It’s the data guys who would keep them honest, by not only keeping close track of the surveys, but complimenting this with other big data sources from the internet and social media. If someone from the LP for instance, was doing sentiment analysis, they wouldn’t have to wait till the last minute to sense the grassroots grievance of FIlipinos. And maybe the predominately male LP inner circle would’ve seen that Leni would’ve been the more viable presidential candidate. I have a friend who said late last year that Leni should’ve been fielded as President instead. I doubted it at the time. But how prescient he was. Leni’s the direct anti-thesis of Digong.

Whoever thought democracy could die because people couldn’t understand the data.

PS – this was a quick analysis done in 2 hours – I apologize for any errors. 


The COMELEC Data Breach is the Philippine National Disaster We Should Be Talking About

In the 2002 film Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) is a serial killer who murders his victims as they sleep in their homes, at the behest of an alternate personality whom he calls the Great Red Dragon.

Dolarhyde proceeds to engage in necrophilic acts with the mothers’ corpses, while embedding shards of broken mirror glass into their eyes to watch himself.

FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) deduces that Dolarhyde has very personal information about this victims – who they are, where they live, how many children they have, the layout of their homes, where to enter, and when best to attack. Dolarhyde knows this because he is a home video technician: he works for a lab that converts home video into VHS tapes. The hours of footage give him an intimate look into this victims’ lives.

He just had analog information. Imagine the damage if he had all the digital information about his victims.

Today, countless of Francis Dolarhydes have access to your private information, thanks to the Commission on Elections. And if you’re not outraged because you can’t visualize what 338 gigabytes of data are, maybe you can visualize what it can do:

Imagine someone opening a bank account under your name, using a fake driver’s license and passport. For years, your fake account is used to launder money, without your knowledge. Imagine your residential address easily accessed in one database. Imagine your email being targeted by phising scams. Or being the target of scams and extortion. Imagine a rogue politician using millions of voter data to keep track of his constituents in his municipality, creating detailed voter records and using this for political gain. All of this data is now out in the open.

And the worst part? We don’t even know how exactly it happened or what steps are being done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The COMELEC even downplayed it. Incredibly, COMELEC wasn’t event transparent enough to disclose what exactly what kind of data was leaked. Only Rappler did an in-depth report on what was actually in the  data that was released.

The rest of local media has largely ignored this; it never made it to the headlines in the same way Kidapawan or the campaign trail did. It only received follow-up articles after Trend Micro, an IT security firm, released a blog post admonishing the government’s responses. None of the presidential candidates think this is a serious concern.

As a result, not only are we not seriously talking about it, most people don’t even know the breach happened. And there could be more breaches we don’t know about – according to security firm Mandiant, data breaches remains undiscovered for more than 6 months.

Make no mistake about it: the COMELEC breach is a disaster of national proportions: it’ll open the floodgates to more attacks and leave our institutions and economy vulnerable for years to come.

Gizmodo is now calling this one of the biggest government data breaches in history.

Blog - Data Breaches

Sources:  data compiled from Rappler.com, MIT Technology Review

The hackers posted the database online on March 27, more than two weeks ago. The fact that it is taking our collective brains so long to appreciate the gravity of this situation is a tragedy. It’s like a different parts of Philippine society got into a car pissed drunk, the driver falls asleep on/behind/in the wheel, and we are blissfully laughing (or arguing over which candidate performed best in the last debate) all the way to the car crash.


Dancing our way to the elections…

Why does this matter?

It matters because we have a $25 billion business process outsourcing industry that employs more than a million Filipinos. This industry survives on the trust of tens of thousands of corporate clients that their data would be handled securely.

It matters because the tension in the West Philippine Sea is leading to the most destabilizing geopolitical conflict of our generation. In this conflict, it’s been documented that one of our adversary’s potent weapons is cyber warfare and espionage. Can China bring the country to its knees by remotely shutting key telecommunications infrastructure, the internet, the electrical grid, and the water supply? Theoretically, it can. In this context, we should be grateful to Filipino hackers for pointing our vulnerabilities.

This conversation matters because the amount of data the government will capture about us will only grow exponentially in the next several years. By 2020, humanity will be producing 40 zettabytes of data. If that’s hard to imagine, picture this: if 1 gigabyte is equivalent to a cup of Starbucks coffee, 1 zettabyte is equivalent to enough Starbucks cups to fill the entire Great Wall of China.

And lastly, it matters because although the COMELEC’s automated election system is run as a separate network, the perception of legitimacy will be the most crucial outcome of a tight race like this (yes, Duterte Bros, it is still anyone’s bet).  Didn’t a great rebel once say that “Revolution, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is just a little push…


Oh wait, I think he meant “madness”, not revolution. Just the same.

Why doesn’t COMELEC “get” the problem?

One clue is that none of the COMELEC commissioners has anything that remotely resembles a background in computer science, engineering, or data science. In an age of automated elections and biometric voter data, isn’t this very very strange?

Blog - Data Breaches-1

Now, since our commissioners are esteemed legal luminaries, you might expect that they would have at least set in place the right institutional and legal framework to enable the COMELEC to protect its data. On this front, it seems there is more damning evidence.

For example, here’s the text of Republic Act 10367 – the law that requires mandatory biometric voter registration. Scroll down to Section 9 on database security and you’ll see this broadly articulated sentence: “The database generated by biometric registration shall be secured by the Commission and shall not be used, under any circumstance, for any purpose other than for electoral exercises.”

Now that sounds cool and sensible enough. After all, it’s not the job of the legislator to get into the practical, implemention-related details. That would fall under the jurisdiction of the COMELEC when it issues the Implementing Rules and Regulation for Republic Act 10367. It’s in the Implementing Rules and Regulations you would expect the COMELEC to at least spell out how it would provide for database security, who would be responsible, the milestones and steps involved, and the costs. Basis management stuff, right?

Here’s a copy of the IRR. Scroll to the relevant section on database security and you’ll notice the glaring fact that the IRR simply copied the text of the Republic Act. In short, there was neither a plan nor a framework from the COMELEC to secure it’s biometrics database (which according to Rappler, was part of the breach).

Another clue is the hard question on institutional checks and balances. As a separate constitutionally mandated commission, the COMELEC’s tech isn’t subject to the oversight of the DOST nor is its website part of the government’s web hosting service. As a result, nobody in its leadership team or its IT department are asking the right questions or providing a check and balance. This is admittedly a tough question to crack – how do you ensure the commission’s independence while ensuring that it’s tech adheres to global best practices? This is another case of technology development outpacing the ability of our laws to keep up.

Why has the media under-reported this story?

There are many obvious reasons for this. In an election cycle where journalists are spread out across the campaign trail and many more equally important stories coming up (Kidapawan, the RCBC-Bangladesh hearings, Poe’s disqualification, which candidate is which celebrity endorsing, etc), it’s easy for journalists and editors to fall into the trap of writing about stories where it is easy to get and verify primary sources (a campaign rally, a Senate hearing, a Supreme Court ruling, etc).

To understand the COMELEC data breach, journalists not only have to comb through the leaked data (which is exactly what Michael Bueza and Wayne Manuel did at Rappler), they have to get a crash course on database architecture, data warehousing, encryption, and network security.

Bring all of these together under an environment where news outlets prioritize speed, clicks, and eyeballs, and you’ll see the underreporting as a another case of market failure. And in every market failure, there’s an opportunity.

If you are a smart journalist, you’ll realize that the world is changing far faster than what seems to be apparent in your daily beats. You’ll realize that fundamentally, we are an island nation and an island people cut off from the world. And there are so many things out there that we don’t even know we don’t know.

You’ll realize that – due to no fault of your own – our educational system and current employers left us woefully unprepared for what is to come. And as a result, you’ll be taking steps to learn new stuff, from platform thinking to network effects.

You’ll be studying R, Python, and D3 on the side because this gives you a skill set that your peers (and editors!) won’t be able to match and makes you incredibly more valuable in the long run.

In Red Dragon, Will Graham had to break the rules to catch Francis Dolarhyde. He had to seek Hannibal Lecter’s counsel. He dug deep into the tragic pathology of his adversary. He had to stretch himself, learn completely  new things, and find his own Great Red Dragon.

Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Founders, Philippines, Startups

Top 10 People to Meet in the Philippines Startup Scene in 2016

2016 is particularly crucial not just because it’s an election year, but also because it’s a milestone for the early cohort of startups founded in 2008-2014 to see if they can make it to their next phase of growth.

It’s also an exciting time as Facebook is set to launch its Manila office, and Uber, Google, and other Silicon Valley giants are scaling up their operations in the Philippines.

These are the people who I believe will play crucial roles in shaping the Philippine startup eco-system in 2016. My criteria is simple, though admittedly subjective: they’re people who 1.) I’ve personally met, 2.) are incredibly competent, intelligent, and are in the top 10% of their field, and 3.) are generous with their time and genuine in their desire to help build the eco-system. You can check out my 2014 list here.

So, in alphabetical order, here are the top 10 people to meet in the Philippine startup scene in 2016:

1. Senator Bam Aquino. The neophyte senator is proving he can outperform the old guard in an institution known more for its grandstanding (those endless inquiries in “aid of legislation”) and coddling thieves of the highest level (the pork barrel scam). Bam’s the vanguard for progressive legislation. In just 3 years, Bam has authored entrepreneurship-focused laws such as Go Negosyo Law and the country’s first Competition Act.

In 2016, he’s working on a startup law that seeks to rationalize existing rules to make them more in line with the needs of the digital economy and make us more competitive with ASEAN neighbors. The ideas on the table: a limited liability company law (which requires amending the Corporation Code to allow for single-person corporations), immigration, amending the Retail Trade Law.

2. Pia Bernal & Alex Alabiso: Kickstart Ventures. In the 4th year of Globe’s experiment in seed and venture funding, Kickstart‘s practicing what it preaches by continuously iterating (disclosure: my startup is a portfolio company). Alex Alabiso comes in as head of portfolio development in Kickstart and has such a unique profile – he’s one of the investors with an engineering background. Pia Bernal, head of social enterprise investments and communications manager, has actually been with Kickstart from the beginning – but is now spending more time helping the portfolio with everything from training and development, to strategic partnerships. Mentored by Kickstart founders Minette, Dan, and Christian, Alex and Pia are undoubtedly playing a more active role this year.

3. Lawrence Cua: Uber. In the city with the world’s traffic, Uber has helped shape regulations for on-demand transportation apps. The app is undoubtedly loved by Filipinos, but 2016 will be a crucial year because it’ll help answer the question of whether Uber actually helps worsen or improve the traffic situation in Manila. The simple reason: unlike US cities, most Uber drivers aren’t car owners themselves but employees of entrepreneurial Filipinos who purchase small fleets and then plug them into the network. We’re waiting for Uber to publish more data to answer this question.

4. Diane Dugan Eustaquio, Goldy Yancha, Dustin Masancay, Kat Chan: IdeaSpace. With the new funding model in place (no equity!) and a new location along Arnaiz Avenue, the next iteration of the Ideaspace program will likely feature bolder and more diverse ideas that can attract a wider base of first-time entrepreneurs. With their grassroots reach across colleges and universities all over the country, the team’s crucial in spreading the gospel that there is an alternative path to a corporate job.

5. Mohammed Malik, GM, Thumbtack. The US-based local services marketplace employs over a thousand Filipinos to help grow operations. Why does it matter? The kinds of career opportunities Thumbtack presents to young Filipino workers is helping them realize that a call center job isn’t enough: that they can be part of a creative and entrepreneurial class of innovation-driven companies.

6. David Margendorff: Founder & CEO, Pawnhero. The country’s first online pawnshop has been super busy the past year, from winning Echelon in 2015 and the 2016 Osaka pitch contest in Japan, to securing funding from Softbank. With this background, David could choose to be anywhere in Southeast Asia – like the bigger market of Indonesia. But he’s chosen to bank on the potential of disrupting the technologically-challenged pawnshop industry in the Philippines.

7. Matt Morrison: CEO, A Space. With new co-working facilities in Makati, BGC & Cebu, A Space is evolving not just as an office leasing play, but as a hub for communities in tech, fashion, music, and the arts. Among their anchor tenants: Endeavor Philippines, Canva, and Grab. The creative mind behind the movement is Matt Morrison, a transplant from London who’s spent his career in media and advertising.

8. Henry Motte-Muñoz: CEO, Edukasyon.ph. Fresh from being named as one of Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs, Henry isn’t about to stop as he rides the momentum of building the first comprehensive database of classes and scholarships in the country. Don’t let the banking and private equity background get in the way – Henry’s also one of the nicest, most thoughtful, and most down-to-earth founders you’ll ever meet.

9. Jerome Uy, Founder MedGrocer. What do you call a product category that makes Php 100 billion+ a year, with a market leader that has 80% market share, yet with overpriced drugs and 80s-era IT? Ripe-for-disruption. To say that this is low-hanging fruit would be understating the opportunity. More like a huge, juicy, sweet mega-tasty round piece of fruit just yearning to be plucked. MedGrocer is the first to reach out before the lazy farmer notices someone is actually there. Plus: Jerome has a “never say no to a first meeting” policy.

10. Orlando B. Vea: CEO, Voyager Innovations. The co-founder of Smart has been driving the digital arm of the PLDT group for the past 3 years, and has been on a hiring spree as Voyager beefs up its diverse product portfolio in fin tech, e-commerce, and digital media. It’s an ambitious play, at a time when the core business is navigating a 3-year digital pivot. Among it’s flagship products: mobile money platform Paymaya, and Lendr, an online marketplace for loans.

Anyone else you want to mention? Drop their names and organizations in the comments section!


Debate Notes and a Better Way to Test Presidential Candidates

Notes debates

Source: Screenshot from TV5 livestream

In Harvard Business School, majority of exams allow notes. That’s not because the faculty wants to make it easy for students. They want to make it harder.

In a typical Harvard case exam, students are asked to respond to broad, open-ended questions like “Should Uber launch a self-driving car?” or “How should Apple respond to federal requests for access to encrypted software?“. Not only do students have to write a convincing case, they have to do so with limited time and word count. It’s also hard because there are no right or wrong answers.

If you haven’t mastered the material, trained your mind how to think analytically, or break down issues in a structured manner, your notes won’t help you at all. If anything, they’ll make it harder to make a compelling argument.

In an increasing number of Harvard classes, the exams are  also practical: build an actual website that generates revenue. Or an app or a service that has actual users. Your notes would obviously mean very little for these.

(Personally, I would’ve advised Mar to just allow Jojo Binay to freely brandish his folders on stage. In the college debating world, we had this tactic of luring an opponent to spend a long time defending a position. And then in our speech, concede and agree to everything they just said – because it was irrelevant and the debate is something else entirely. Roxas could’ve pulled that trick. Think about it. “Sige po, Luchi – hayaan natin siyang gumamit ng codigo. Kaming tatlo, di namin kailangan.” Binay would’ve also looked like a bigger fool navigating throughout the paper work in a tiny desk, when everyone else spoke without notes.)

And that’s the biggest problem of debates so far: they tell us very little about the presidential candidates. I know they’re a necessary component in the showmanship of every democracy, but they barely scratch the surface. A major policy issue like climate change or drugs gets 2 minutes each. Half of the time is spent mud-slinging. They’re not real constructive conversations.

I think there’s a better way to assess: make each presidential candidate build an MVP.

No, no, not Manny V. Pangilinan. In startup parlance, an MVP is a “minimum viable product” – an early, rough prototype good enough to test a solution to a problem. In tech, it could be a bare bones website or mobile app. In retail, it could be product samples. The point is to have just a minimum number of features to a.) define a hypothesis, b.) build an experiment to test that hypothesis, c.) and gather data to validate or invalidate our hypothesis.

Here’s how it’ll work: we’ll ask each candidate to build an MVP for one, single issue they care about. They get to pick their own team of 5 people: engineers, developers, graphic artist, copywriters, etc. They’ll start on a Friday morning. They’ll each be filmed constantly – no cuts or edits – during the day from 9am to 6pm. On Sunday evening, they’ll be asked to demo their MVP in front of a live audience and streamed on YouTube. A panel of experts will ask tough questions.

Here are some ideas:

  • Jojo Binay likes to showcase the healthcare benefits Makati residents receive. His goal is to build an MVP for a site similar to Obamacare’s Healthcare.gov.   The site’s mission: provide universal health coverage for every Filipino.  At the end, he has to demo his work to a panel of doctors, HMO providers, technologists, and employers.
  • Grace Poe can build an MVP for a platform that centralizes all government and private sector services for overseas Filipinos, a constituency she leans on when critics question her patriotism.
  • Mar Roxas wants sustained economic growth. So he work on an MVP for an online platform that helps train senior high school students in data science, analytics, and computer science – three fields that are the next step in the value chain for our BPO industry, which obviously cannot rely on voice services to accelerate growth.
  • Rody Duterte likes local government, so he can build an app that enables participatory democracy, enabling citizens to take photos, report, and up-vote pressing local barangay and municipality level problems – think unfinished road repairs and empty clinics.

If it sounds like Startup Weekend, well it is. And more than any presidential debate or campaign rally, an exercise like this helps us understand:

  • How they think through tough problems. In the OFW example, is the problem to be tackled upstream opportunities for people who want to work abroad, or for existing OFWs? Grace’s answer will lead to entirely different MVPs. If she chooses the former, why? Why not the latter?
  • How each candidate prioritizes issues. In the healthcare example, do you start with building an interface for providers? Or for customer registration and validation? Why this sequence?
  • How they collaborate with a small team to reach an imperfect solution? What’s their management style? Do they ask a lot of questions? Or do they rely on personal domain expertise? Will they pick people who are smarter than they are? Or do they need to be the alpha in the room?
  • How do they deal with uncertainty? Do they go with their gut, rely on others, or leave the building to find data?
  • How they respond to feedback? How do they deal with tough questions?

In an earlier post, I wrote something on how the presidentiables can court the Entrepreneur Vote:

Make the candidates put themselves in the shoes of the entrepreneur. And not in a superficial way like visiting Aling Nena’s sari-sari store or manning a Jollibee counter for an hour. Each presidentiable will have 38 days to register a corporation. Why 38? Because that’s the World Bank measure of how long it takes. They have to get as far into the process as they can within that amount of time. I’ll give each candidate all the forms they need, and Php 5,000.00 each as initial paid-in capital. They have to fill up all the forms themselves in that event – no accountants, no lawyers.  Broadcast this live in front of the people. SEC Articles of Incorporation. By-Laws. BIR Forms. DTI. SSS. Pag-Ibig. City Permit. Barangay Clearance.

You get the drift: the idea is to make each presidentiable feel what every Filipino entrepreneur has to go through. All the presidentiables will be invited to a public forum to discuss their experience in front of small business owners.  This won’t be a debate format. Instead, we ask each candidate to answer the following:

  • Describe your experience in registering a company.
  • Diagnosis the process of starting the company. What were the bottlenecks? What worked? What didn’t?
  • Recommend the changes and how you would implement them.


They can use all the notes they want in any of the above exercises. It’s not a debate, it’s real work. When the dust settles, we’ll have a treasure trove of data about each candidate. We get to have a glimpse into how a leader actually gets shit done.

The President is not just the head of state or the leader of the country. He or she is employee # 1. The President works for me. I’m the boss here. And so are you. I pay his salary every month. And so do you.

When we hire employees, we don’t just ask job candidates to tell us who they are and what their back story is. We get a sense of how they can actually get things done. A President is no different.


As most of you know, I don’t proofread my articles – I write as I go along. All errors are mine. 


How Would Martial Law Happen in 2016?


The biggest irony today is that the freedom young Marcos supporters enjoy to voice an unpopular opinion (that the dictatorship was a golden age) is the same freedom that was taken away from their parents in the 1970s.

More time has passed between today and the start of Martial Law than the time between Martial Law and the end of World War II. So it’s no surprise that we have but the faintest idea of the Marcos dictatorship compared to that generation’s memories of the atrocities of war.

So re-watching Batas Militar made me wonder, if I were alive in the 1970s, what would happen to me? Obviously an incredibly difficult scenario to imagine, but this one’s easier: if Martial Law were proclaimed today, what would happen to me and the world around me?

First, Rappler would be taken over. Marcos would strip Maria Ressa and her colleagues of their board seats and hand them over to cronies. A military rep will commandeer the passwords to their servers and software. Chay Hofileña, Maritess Vitug, Natashya Guttierez, Leloy Claudio, Patricia Evangelista and other brilliant / courageous writers who fearlessly speak truth to power would be taken in the middle of the night from their homes. The women would be raped at knifepoint. The men would be found weeks later, their testicles cut off, their guts full of water.

Second, Ernest Cu and Manny Pangilinan would be forcibly asked to turn over control of Globe and PLDT’s vital internet infrastructure to the government. Facebook would be blocked, China-style. YouTube will be swamped with content takedown requests from Malacañang.

Carlo Katigbak and Felipe Gozon would be made to report to the Palace (no, not the pool club) every week. All broadcast shows from ABS-CBN and GMA must require approval from the Presidential Communications Office. Guys like Arnel Cassanova, upright public servants who aren’t afraid to go after vested interests, will be out of a job, or worse, find themselves detained in Camp Crame. SWS and Pulse Asia surveys will be doctored. Leading opposition candidates Jojo Binay and Grace Poe would be behind bars. Brian Llamanzares, for showing off his shoes, would attract the ire of some Generals and will be found lifeless in a Tarlac ditch, his feet cut off.

Third, Marcos would use a rising China and the West Philippine Sea dispute as leverage to bargain for more military aid (fair game to skimming in the form of unaudited intelligence funds) from an American government keen to implement a Pacific Pivot. But he’ll also play two sides of the same coin. As Marcos covets US aid with his right hand, the left hand would be reaching out to excess Chinese liquidity and divert it to local investments through his cronies, naturally.

This generation’s version of the coco levy scam – a scheme so brazenly and intelligently designed for wealth transfer would involve using our strong foreign currency reserves to acquire overseas assets whose control would be given to the same cronies, with Marcos getting a healthy cut.

Taxes on overseas remittances will triple overnight. A Presidential Decree – which Marcos produced copious amounts that would put an Instagram Wife’s selfies to shame – will be required for new BPO licenses.

My startup would be shut down, disingenuously accused for trying to “endanger” a business of a Blue Lady. Kalibrr, Pawnhero, Lenddo, OLX, and more would be shut down for threatening established conglomerates. Bantay.ph will be censored and Henry would disappear. In the guise of protecting sari sari store owners, Lazada’s warehouses all over the country would be seized. Last night’s talk from Sequoia Capital wouldn’t happen as all interest from foreign VCs would evaporate. Expats like Christian Besler would be deported for being too opinionated in public affairs. The CBCP doesn’t like Carlos Celdran’s protest-as-art? Well they might find him with his top hat stuffed into his mouth in a Cavite swamp.

If I were still in college, debate friends from Ateneo, UP, UST, and DLSU – incredibly brilliant legal minds such as William Panlilio, Joan de Venecia, and Arlene Maneja – would slip in one debate and attract the ire of the presidential daughter and disappear Archimedes Trajano-style. Those who survive the purge would flee abroad.

So, yeah:

1. I would definitely not have survived Martial Law. And I think a lot of my friends wouldn’t either.

2. There are tens of thousands of independent minded, intelligent, and talented Filipinos who are either dead or have fled overseas. All our woes of not having enough good public servants, entrepreneurs, PhDs, etc could be traced back to those years.

3. The very fact young people are free to argue that Noynoy Aquino is a bad president without fear of Kris Aquino sending out her bodyguards in retaliation should make those same young people very very thankful – no matter how much the EDSA generation fucked up in the decades after.

So to my parents’ generation, thank you for giving me the chance to write this without fear. To guys like Primitivo Mijares, where ever you and your pen are, there are still a lot of the key players alive, rich, and well that we are waiting for you to fetch.

Netflix, Philippines, Startups, Uncategorized

It’s Likely that the Philippines Will Block Netflix Too


Today, the Wall Street Journal reported that Indonesia’s biggest telco has blocked access to Netflix.

State-owned Telkom concluded that Netflix didn’t have a permit to operate in Indonesia. Netflix also apparently contains violent and sexual content objectionable to Indonesian censors. Hey I’d feel violated too watching Francis Underwood do this to Zoe Barnes. Please don’t think of our very own Francis (Escudero) and Heart. Oh wait, now you just did.

Anyway, the big question is could the same thing happen to the Philippines?

Quite possibly… and in my opinion, very likely. There’s a weird set of interests that are at stake here. ABS-CBN and GMA would obviously want a strategic hedge, no matter how nascent the streaming market is. Bayan Muna and their leftist pals will decry the further encroachment by American capitalists (and do their loudest shouting, ironically, on Facebook). The BIR will want its cut. Congress will grandstand. The telcos will face a dilemma.

How could access to Netflix be blocked in the Philippines?

Here’s how I speculate this might play out.

One, in a rare display of haste, urgency, and cross-agency collaboration, the NTC, SEC, BIR, and MTRCB will band together to invoke Article XVI of the 1987 Constitution, which says:

The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.”

They will argue that because Netflix broadcasts movies and TV shows, it must be considered mass media.  The framers of the Constitution clearly did not imagine the impact of the internet, which the Philippines connected to just 7 years after 1987.

Blockers will also use a strange SEC opinion that argues that any activity that in effect “disseminates information to the general public through the internet” may be considered mass media. This leads to a possible bizarre interpretation of the Constitution that because your Facebook feed disseminates information, this is considered mass media and Facebook should thus be 100% Filipino owned.

Two, Netflix will argue that it is breaking no laws because it neither owns nor manages any local company engaged in mass media. It can say it’s not mass media because it doesn’t need broadcast frequencies to operate. One needs to pay a subscription, unlike free-to-air TV.

It is also possible to argue that the framers of the Constitution intended to protect public opinion and news media from foreign interests and foreign propaganda, and since Netflix is not a news organization dipping its hands in local politics, it should not be considered mass media. I’m no constitutionalist, so I’ll leave it to guys like Oscar Tan to dissect the legalities. Suffice to say that there are enough gray areas to give the blockers legal ammunition.

Three, the BIR will want its cut. It could try to impose the 12% VAT or a 15% final withholding tax. As far as I know, neither Google nor Facebook pays either when they receive programmatic ad revenue. I don’t see anything on my ads receipts that indicate that they do so.

Netflix will do its best to comply until they fully realize the extent of red tape they have to go through to comply with local tax laws. They’ll realize that the BIR is on the losing end of enforcement anyway and will go on business as usual.

Four, some honorable gentlemen in Congress – possibly the same guys that want to give Pia Wurtzbach a tax exemption because they don’t have anything better to do than fantasize that they get a chance of dating her by passing this law – will file a resolution blocking Netflix, similar to what these guys tried with Fox International.

Five, the TV and cable networks will join the fray, in a bizarre alignment of interests with leftists like Bayan Muna. They will naturally argue that Netflix is a long term threat to the domestic entertainment industry and to thousands of jobs. They’ll be on a wait-and-see mode, perhaps licensing some parts of their library but not too much to prop Netflix up. A young guy who gets it like Carlo Katigbak might be willing to play a smarter accommodation strategy. An older guy like Felipe Gozon might want to block them altogether. Or he might not care or be digital savvy enough to realize how big a thing streaming is in the first place.

Six, the telcos will be caught in a dilemma. Admittedly, it’ll be a more complicated tradeoff for the telcos. Each has its own streaming platform. But the lure of higher data revenues would be too enticing.

I’m wishing all this actually happens. No real damage will come out of it in the long term anyway. It’ll bring about the much needed public anger and discourse to push Congress to finally revise our absurd foreign ownership restriction limits. Maybe it’ll open the public realm to candidates like Bam Aquino who actually understand digital. Maybe it’ll push the next president to appoint our first cabinet-level CTO.

Streaming video is here to stay. A growing Filipino middle class with more choices will opt to pay that Php 370 a month. It’s tough to bet against a change of this magnitude. And we’re not even talking about the entry of that other streaming behemoth – Amazon.

So yes, let’s get the ball rolling. Filipino dinosaurs, let’s seek to block Netflix.