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Blockchain in the Philippines tackled by new Filipino book

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If you think blockchain is just a fad, then keep in mind that once upon a time, Bill Gates made the mistake of believing that consumers wouldn’t embrace the internet.

In fact, he later had to revise his book “The Road Ahead” to talk more about the internet. Gates, however, wasn’t the only smart person to make the mistake of underestimating the internet. As someone who became a tech journalist in 1996 by joining the pioneering IT newspaper in the Philippines, Metropolitan Computer Times, I can tell you that many CEOs, tech luminaries, and experts were saying in the 90s and 00s that the internet wouldn’t replace physical stores, or put newspapers out of business, or entice people to watch movies and TV shows online, and so on.

It happens whenever a new technology emerges. Just like what’s happening now to blockchain. You will have a lot of skeptics saying it won’t take off, that it’s too technical for consumers, that society isn’t ready for it, and so on. With the launch of the book “Opening the Archipelago: The Story of Blockchain in the Philippines“, I’m optimistic that more Filipinos will learn about blockchain, embrace this emerging technology, and use it to make their lives better.

Philippine success stories

Co-authored by Union Bank of the Philippines executives Henry Aguda, Catherine Casas, and Nathan Marasigan, "Opening the Archipelago: The Story of Blockchain in the Philippines" is the first Philippine book to tell the story of blockchain in this country and focus on local case studies.  Image credit: Bookshelf PH
Image credit: Bookshelf PH

Today, we take the internet for granted and can’t imagine the world without it. Tomorrow, everyone will need to understand blockchain. After all, blockchain is one of the building blocks for the next iteration of the Web — Web3 a.k.a. Web 3.0, which is the decentralized version of the internet — and that metaverse thing we keep hearing about these days.

Co-authored by Union Bank of the Philippines executives Henry Aguda, Catherine Casas, and Nathan Marasigan, “Opening the Archipelago: The Story of Blockchain in the Philippines” is the first Philippine book to tell the story of blockchain in this country and focus on local case studies.

I love that the book launch and press briefing made use of the Filipino blockchain-based learning management platform Apptitude, which the book also cited. Apptitude CEO Mars Veloso was also one of the panelists. In fact, Veloso pointed out that he actually first heard of blockchain during one of UnionBank’s hackathons, which led to him founding his startup.

Not only that, but also Bookshelf PH — an online marketplace and boutique publisher that aims to bring the best of Filipino books to local readers — published this book. Which makes this a match made in heaven and a timely book launch, because we are now reaching the tipping point for blockchain adoption in the Philippines. Filipinos are leading the way in providing the world with blockchain success stories, including Yield Guild Games, which is making play-to-earn a reality in the Philippines and all over the metaverse, and the Philippines emerging as the home of the world’s most active MetaMask users, accounting for nearly 20% of its more than 10 million monthly active users.

Blockchain for Filipinos

What I like about this book is that it doesn’t preach to the choir, but attempts to reach out to ordinary Filipinos who may not have heard of blockchain, or who have but are still skeptical about it.

“This book was not intended to provide lengthy or technical narratives that solely appeal to those already invested in the subject matter. The book was intended to make information accessible and easily digestible by all – from financial experts to our nanays, tatays, lolos, and lolas,” Marasigan said.

It’s also interesting to note that all three authors are from UnionBank, and that when it came to blockchain in Philippine banking, they had to cite their own experiences. Because, well, let’s face it, other Philippine banks haven’t embraced blockchain. So the authors aren’t just talking about theory. It’s what they learned by doing — by failing fast and learning fast.

Banks and fintechs

“While there is no shortage of blockchain and crypto advocates in the Philippines, what set the authorship team apart was their deep experience as banking and fintech leaders. They could capably articulate how the technology would transform not only the lives of consumers, but entire industries as well,” said Bookshelf PH Head of Content Sam Balinado.

Since they’re all in the banking industry, I asked for their take on the belief of some blockchain and decentralized finance (DeFi) advocates that the technology would one day make banks obsolete.

“When we started the entire digital transformation of the bank, that was actually what we were trying to address. And it’s not limited to the blockchain industry, right? We have all the fintechs coming out, I think in 2015, saying that they were here, we offer better customer experiences, and we’re here essentially disrupt the banks. Banks, of course, you have to take a stand, right, whether or not you believe in that. But then what we did, our stand was, we have to work with them,” Casas said.

Society and community

“And the reason why we wanted to work with them, initially, was not only because we wanted to learn from them, but because we felt that the problem is really too big to be handled by one institution. If we put ourselves from the perspective of the consumer, we want everything to be done, as I’ve mentioned, we want it fast, we want it convenient, we want everything. People and all the institutions have to come together to give that. It cannot be done by just one sector.

“That’s why you see right now, a few years from the time they said they were going to disrupt banks, we’re seeing also some of these DeFi companies working with financial institutions to come up with some sort of centralized CeFi or a hybrid of DeFi and banking. So at some point I think that all of us play a special role in society and in the community. It’s not just because I’m a banker. But it’s really because I’m part of society and part of this community, and I know I have an important role to play. So since I’m a banker, I represent the banking industry,” she said.

The beauty of the emerging decentralized internet is that each of us has a role to play, and each of us can make an impact. We are all stakeholders in the blockchain revolution.

“I hope that this book may serve as a jumping off point for a broader discussion of the role of blockchain technology in the Philippines. I invite other business leaders, entrepreneurs, community organizers, investors, media, and other stakeholders to join in, as it’ll take the entire business community to maximize its full potential to change Filipino society,” Aguda said.

Are you ready to play your part?