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Empowering Cordillerans
thru information technology

Posted: 6:28 AM (Manila Time) | Mar. 20, 2002
By Frank Cimatu
Inquirer News Service

A RECENT print advertisement on information technology shows a group of Igorot elders gathered around the dap-ay (a structure where Cordillera elders meet) and one of them is labeled "e-gorot."

But the fact is, the typical Cordilleran has no Internet access, not even a telephone access.

In Kalinga, for example, phone lines have been down since typhoon "Feria" struck the Cordillera last July.

According to the National Telecommunications Commission, 93 percent (38,000) of all subscribed phone lines in the Cordillera (or a total of 41,000) are located in Baguio City and nearby La Trinidad, Benguet.

Mt. Province, for example, has only 324 telephone subscriptions. The more reliable form of communication in the Cordillera is sending one's letter through buses that ply the region's rugged mountain trails.

After setting up free e-mail connections in rural communities like Gumaca, Quezon; Iguig, Cagayan; Anda, Pangasinan; and Botolan, Zambales, last year, the Metro Manila-based PH Domain Foundation decided to set up one in the Cordillera, this time in Bontoc, Mt. Province.

The group is thinking not only of bringing IT (information technology) to Bontoc but also empowering the rural communities through Internet and e-mail.

In coordination with Ebgan, a non-government organization dedicated to help stop gender violence in the Cordillera, the PH Domain Foundation (PHDF) has set up three e-mail capable computer sets in Bontoc.

Without a local Internet service provider, Bontoc is now connected to the worldwide web through a special software using the existing telecommunication lines.

There are now 200 e-mail subscribers in Bontoc, including Mayor Louis Claver Jr.

"I do not need a computer. I won all my cases when I was a lawyer because I personally type them on my typewriter," Claver said before he opened the computer center recently at the Chico River Inn.

Now, he sings a different tune. "There is also a positive side to this technology. We should open ourselves to the challenges of the times."

Lynn Madalang, Ebgan executive director, said PHDF had started giving IT training to students and even farmers of Bontoc and nearby towns.

"Our main aim is to bring the IT to the farmers so they can form a network with other farmers and check, for example, the current prices of vegetables," she said.

"I don't see any intrusion into the Cordillera culture. Like Mayor Claver, they will see that not all in the new technology is bad. Instead of calling long distance through their phones, they can now use their e-mail."

"It's one way of empowering the remote communities, especially the women," she added.

She said they are now soliciting the e-mail addresses of development organizations that can help Bontoc residents seek and develop livelihood opportunities.

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