Philippines: Of breaches and beaches

A few miles off the coast of Vietnam, the Philippines is an archipelago in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. The people are warm, full of hospitality and the lands are lush surrounded with sandy beaches and twinkling oceans. Amidst the scenic background, 2023 greeted the country with several challenges – notably, a barrage of data breaches and towards the latter half of the year, natural disasters hinting to the increasing effects of climate change.

Ipsos | Almanac 2024 Philippines

Of Breaches 

With Filipinos’ inclination to connect, it’s no wonder the nation receives nicknames such as the "texting capital of the world" and the "social media capital of the world" – at the heart of texting and social media use is the act of keeping connected. While the majority fears that technical progress can destroy lives, this has not acted as a barrier to mobile phone ownership or the continued usage of social media. In fact, start of the year stories of getting conned purported in the media with the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) recording over 16,000 cybercrime cases from January to August 2023. 

It’s not just individuals who are vulnerable; government and financial institutions also proved vulnerable to hacking and data breaches. Hence, we now see the country bolstering its cyber security efforts. On 26 July 2023, the Philippines officially enacted Republic Act No.11934, more commonly known as the SIM registration law. This mandates the registration of SIM cards before activation, addressing issues such as smishing, trolling, and disinformation.  

This joins existing laws such as the cybercrime law, and Financial Consumer Protection Act. The central bank (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) of the country is also aiming to pass the Anti-Financial Account Scamming Act (AFASA). 

While these are recognized perils, Filipinos have mixed feelings about their online privacy and the data collected from them. After all, seven in ten cannot imagine life without the internet

And Beaches 

Known for its natural tourist attractions, the Philippines made waves back in 2018 when it shut down its world-famous Boracay Island to rehabilitate from overtourism. While the island partially opened in 2020, the rehabilitation program was only completed in June 2022.   

Fast forward to 2023 and the Department of Tourism (DOT) finds that tourism numbers have doubled compared with the February to December period in 2022. The country also revived its tourism campaign tagline to “Love the Philippines”, retiring the decade-long “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign. While the change in taglines stirred controversy, it did not deter the influx of tourists to the country. DOT is poised to hit its 4.8 million tourist targets (with a 1.8 million forecast in Boracay alone) by year-end. But local marine biologists have simultaneously recently reported that watersheds in Boracay and other beaches contain high traces of drugs such as caffeine and paracetamol. 

In September 2023, the capital of the Philippines’ was enveloped with a mystery “fog” originally thought of as vog from nearby Taal Volcano. However, this was later clarified as smog by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) due to vehicle exhaust emissions. The Metro Manila smog opened conversations about electric vehicles (EVs), a topic which has been gaining traction in the market since big automotive companies have begun introducing new EVs over the past couple of years.   
Eighty-six per cent of Filipinos recognize that unless we change our habits quickly, the country is heading for environmental disaster.  

While 2023 may be filled with trials and tribulations for the country, be it man-made or natural disasters, the country remains hopeful and resilient, taking what may be little steps that can hopefully lead to a more sustainable tomorrow. As George Milton in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men hopefully claimed, “We got a future.” 

Vicky Abad

Country Manager, Ipsos in the Philippines