Main menu


From tech geek to PH's leader for digital transformation



Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Ivan John Uy has been one of the Philippines’ foremost names in technological breakthroughs for quite some time now.

Well-versed in both Legal and Information Technology – specializing in computer forensics, cybercrime, electronic evidence, e-commerce and digital ethics – he spearheaded the digitalization of the Supreme Court. He also contributed to the Commission on Elections’s (Comelec) shift to automated polling in 2010.

Speaking with The Sunday Times Magazine in an exclusive interview, Uy admitted he was already into technology even before he decided to become a lawyer. He still pursued this passion throughout high school despite reckoning his digital interests would open a career path.

“I graduated high school in 1980, so there were no personal computers or the internet yet. But gradually, the public started hearing about upcoming computers like Radio Shack. So when it came out, I would buy some of their devices and start toying and twiddling around with them from my curiosity,” recalled Uy.

“I’m also a science fiction fan. I like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars.’ I also love to read science fiction. In fact, I share a favorite author with President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos – he also loves Isaac Asimov. We’re followers of his books on robotics and many other books he wrote. But that really opened my interest in technology, in the sciences and especially how all these technological advancements are life-changing. I’ll have posters of space shuttles because, at that time, space launches were big. So you can say I’m an avid or passionate geek,” he chuckled.

Get the latest news

delivered to your inbox

Sign up for The Manila Times’ daily newsletters

By signing up with an email address, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

However, his “geek days” subsided when he went to college to take up Legal Management at the Ateneo de Manila University. He regained his curiosity when he finally went to pursue Law at the University of the Philippines College in 1984. His professors back then would always come to him to ask about the basics of computers.

“IBM donated a personal computer to UP College of Law. When it was delivered there, the professors didn’t know what to do with it. Naghahanap sila kung sino ang marunong doon, then ako ang na-spot. Ang sabi ko ‘Wow, super kayo! Meron kayong personal computer.’

“They were shocked when I turned the monitor on. They didn’t understand, but I was so excited. So from there, I also bought my own personal computer – part by part from Virra Mall and from Cubao,” he chuckled again.

Unsurprisingly, Uy was the first in his class to print out computerized case studies using a word processor. The students and his professors saw the impact of this simple technology and how it could speed things up.

By then, Uy had also helped organize file cases of UP’s Office of Legal Aid – a free legal program of the UP College of Law for the public – by creating a database.

From campus to Supreme Court

After graduation, Uy joined the JESSUP International Law Moot Court Competition in Boston, where he met a fellow contestant who would eventually become Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan.

“When I took the bar exams, passed and took my oath as a lawyer, I was recruited by Chief Justice Fernan to the Supreme Court. He told me, ‘I need you to computerize the Supreme Court.’ That’s how I started.

“In 1989, I was given the responsibility and even created a position for IT,” shared Uy.

“From there, we started developing. I started analyzing the Court’s biggest problem: its case tracking. So we came out with a Case Administration System – the first computer program ever developed for the Supreme Court. With it, at any given time, the Justices will know the status of the cases, when it was filed, to whom it was assigned, and what is the next hearing or the subsequent pleading. Everything is complete.

“That’s the reason why Chief Justice Fernan was able to manage the court. He had a good grasp of things. There were no lost files or records,” he added.



From there, Uy developed more programs for the Supreme Court (SC). He designed and created the Supreme Court’s website, marking the very first time for a Philippine government agency to have one. He did the same with the email.

Uy, who initially worked as a legal researcher before heading the SC’s Management Information System Office, also started computerizing “back office” procedures like payroll, attendance, leave and property management. Moreover, he developed creating the SC’s e-Library system, pushed for computerized transcripts of trials, and finally, in 2020, he was assigned to draft the rules of Electronic Evidence for the e-Commerce Law.

Since then, Uy has received training in the US under the State Department concerning the federal courts, FBI, digital forensics and cyber investigation. And as the Filipinos’ daily lives started to be influenced by technology and the internet, more systems development issues required his attention: programming, networks, cybercrime and data privacy, among others.

As the first to gain such specialized expertise, he lectured at the Philippine Judicial Academy and NBI Academy shortly before leaving the Supreme Court in 2005 or after 13 years.

For a short period, Uy made his way to the private sector and has been involved with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) as its Corporate Secretary and Chairman of the Philippine Business Conference Resolutions Committee.

Not long after, in 2010, late Comelec Chairman Jose Melo asked for Uy’s help to implement the automated elections. And when the late former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd won the polls, Uy was tasked to serve as chairman of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT).

Although Uy headed CICT for only a little more than a year until the body was dissolved in June 2011, Uy remains proud of what he achieved there. He happily shared how the Philippines overtook India as the number one destination for call centers.

“We hold that up to today because of the government’s efforts at that time, and we supported that industry, gave all necessary resources to build up the business and attracted all the investments here.”

The birth of DICT

Eventually, with the growing push for the creation ICT department, Aquino signed into Law the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) in May 2016. In June 2016, during the first term of then-President Rodrigo Duterte, Uy became DICT Secretary and was reappointed once more by current President Ferdinand Marcos on October 6.

“Now we have high hopes because our President is very passionate, and he has a firm commitment to level up the Philippines,” mentioned Uy.

“My primary requisite is if the President gave me the assignment and he is into it. For me, the only way I can be successful here is if I have a champion and the champion has to be the topman. If the topman is the champion and he will give me all the resources needed, I will deliver.

“But kung wala doon yung puso, nagaaksaya lang ako ng oras at panahon para ilagay doon.

“But I can see that the President is very passionate. When he told me about digital transformation, I said, ‘Sir, you just said the magic words.’ That’s what I want to pursue.’ The key word there is not just digital, by the way, it’s about transformation. We need to level up and transform.”


According to Uy, the number one priority of President Marcos is connectivity for all. This is the reason why they launched BroadBand ng Masa Project (BBMP), which provides fast and reliable free internet connectivity in hard-to-reach localities in the country.

In fact, on October 8, they led the launch of the new sites in three far-flung island villages in Zamboanga City.

“Those islands never really had any type of connectivity. So we had to set up a tower. It was a bayanihan effort. The Armed Forces brought the towers to the island while the indigenous people – some Yakan, Badjao and Tausug – dug up to set up the tower. Then our engineers set up the transmitters and receivers,” enthused Uy.

By next year, the DICT Secretary shared that Elon Musk’s satellite internet provider, Starlink, is expected to arrive in the Philippines. Their goal is to use its services to bring free high-speed and low-latency internet services to more geographically-isolated and disadvantaged areas without using towers or cables.

“Once we’re able to do that, the next step is e-Governance. Filipinos can then connect and apply to e-government apps easier.

“With all the beautiful craftsmanship of our indigenous people, we can help them reach international buyers through our online marketplace. So can you see how transformative and how liberalizing connectivity is? The economic impact on that community is immeasurable. You’ll solve poverty, you solve insurgency,” Uy pointed out.


As head of DICT, Uy admitted there continue to be many challenges the department has to face head-on. One of them is dealing with bureaucracy.

“Our bureaucracy is industrial age bureaucracy or agricultural age bureaucracy. There are still laws, rules and regulations that are anti-technology and anti-digitalization. We need legislation to change that into the new world – to the digital world – so it has to be transformative,” explained Uy.

“We also need to establish better harmonization of data and better the operability of the different departments. Government departments were in silos in the old world, but in the digital world, everything is connected to everything. Today, it’s no longer classified in silos – they’re interconnected. You need the distribution of social welfare through electronic banking and digital banking. We need a database of information. For example, in tourism, you need connectivity because how will tourists go to places if you don’t have connectivity. You also need the data on where these tourists go, how much they are spending, and what they are looking for. We need all that information, and you need information technology to give you the data so you can analyze them and make proper decisions,” he continued.

“Other than that challenge, of course, we need funding. DICT is one of the agencies that have the smallest amount of budget in all the entire cabinet. So we need to work.

“The year 2023 will be the proving ground or the proving year for them to see what the DICT needs in terms of budget because of all the projects we need to do,” Uy added.

The secretary furthered that DICT is working on developing courses with many industry champions like Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Google for scholarships. This way, Filipinos can enroll and eventually apply to companies needing tech industry professionals.

“We’ll give those scholarships for those who want to enroll. After six months, they get their certificate and present it to employers. We need to upskill and we need to right-skill because we cannot afford to keep on graduating people from school but have no jobs to match their skill sets. That’s the mission of DICT also, to right-tool them so that they will be employable in the right industries.

“So probably in the next two-, three- or four years, we will have built a strong digital workforce. And that strong digital workforce will now answer not only to the needs of the demands of the Philippines but the world,” Uy noted.

The DICT Secretary declared that the long-term goal is poverty alleviation and better education and employment for the Filipino people.

“This can only happen with all those efforts. Apart from that, we will also make transacting with the government easier for the citizenry because, as we know, it is always a pain. So my objective is e-governance – to simplify everything, cut all the red tape and make it simple for people to transact with government. Make it a joy,” Uy said.

With all his plans for the agency and the country, Uy said he owes it to his champion, President Marcos.

“We have a president who is convinced that all these plans are really what will benefit the country. Even during the campaign he said ‘Sama-sama tayong babangon muli.’ That’s what it’s all about, but we have to do it together.

“I believe in his vision, I believe in his dream, and I share that dream, and I’m sure all of you also share the same common aspiration.

At this exciting crossroads, Uy is adamant that the only thing needed is cooperation from all the different branches of government and even the citizens.

“Give us the legislative framework so we can operate and work properly. Give us the legislative budget to deliver our mandate,” Uy averred.

With so many mountains to climb to achieve a technologically adept Philippines, The Sunday Times Magazine had to ask the secretary if he had any goals just for himself.

Thinking for a moment, he still said, “When I retire, I wish to see a progressive Philippines. I see a Philippines that is out of poverty. A Philippines that is no longer third-world. A Philippines with at least middle or upper middle income and, therefore, a large middle class and everything will keep going from there,” he ended.