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Newspaper: Manila Standard, Business Sunday
Columnist: Jing Garcia
Editor: Ramon Tomeldan
Date: July 1, 2001, Sunday

Title: A day in the Life of JOEL DISINI
The man who kicked up a storm in cyberspace is a great benefactor to residents of Botolan, Zambales.

BOTOLAN is a town in Zambales, about 2 hours of road travel after passing Olongapo. This small rural community is proud of its church located in the main town plaza. Santa Monica Church, as the early friars christened it, was carved from coral stones. Very unique indeed.

Last June 16, the town was even prouder, as it became the second recipient of a free e-mail program driven by the people behind PH Domain Foundation, a social outreach arm of the local PH Domain Registry or known to the local Internet community as dotPH. A company spearheaded by Email Company (EMC) founder and the Philippine Domain's one and only registrar, the controversial Joel Disini.

Worldwideweb at the grassroots
On the way to Zambales that Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Disini, who made friends and enemies both at the same time in the local Net community because of his "monopolistic" handling of the PH domain name. Along with the group who were mostly members of EMC and the foundation, we discussed a variety of subjects that concerns local IT and some not. A lighthearted chat that gave me some ideas on how these people work, especially Joel.

"The problem with IBM is you can't get any support," teased Joel addressing an experience to his partner Noel Morales who was with us inside the van and used to be a brand manager at IBM, now a board member of the foundation. I myself was not able to escape Disini's amusing taunts, particularly when I mistakenly mentioned that I wrote something in my weekly Friday column for this newspaper a commentary on the dotPH issue. When he asked what was it about, I immediately said, "I forgot" to get away from a situation I already deemed awkward. "You conveniently forgot" Joel quipped.

As the Hyundai Starex arrived at the corner of Col. Jose Guido Street and the main provincial road, there was an obvious atmosphere of anticipation. By the time of our approach, a crowd had gathered in front of a small shop painted in blue and adorned by two large glass pane windows, by the side of a stretch of uncemented road. They were curious about this whole free e-mail thing.

The one-story unit was provided by the Botolan Credit Development Cooperative, a group that was chosen by the foundation as a major partner for the program. The one room shop contains four computers donated to the foundations and will be used to provide the free mail service for the township of Botolan.

After a brief and simple ribbon cutting ceremony, lunch was served for the visitors from Manila and some local VIPs. Disini, sporting a white Nautica sport shirt and casual slacks, mixed well with the locals, something his critics back in Manila would simply find unusual. Over lunch, he was straightforward with the townfolks he had conversation with around the table. There was something in him that I failed to see when I chanced on Joel at an ITECC meeting more than a month ago where a heated debate with his opponents on the dotPH controversy was on that day. If ever this guy would run for mayor of Botolan, I am sure he would win hands down.

"I want more of this, more in remote locations because the Internet is such a powerful tool, in fact this is a continuing process, next week we'll be there far up north" said Joel as I converse with him to reveal my purpose of going along in that whole-day trip.

Certainly, Joel Disini is not new in the IT business. A graduate of the California Institute of Technology, he started an ISP called EMC way back 1989 and along with that initialized Internet connectivity as fas as Davao and Bukidnon. However, his continued hold on the PH Domain Registry is a contentious issue that does not seem to end. Accusations of unfair pricing on .ph domain names and abuses in administering the Philippine country code top level domain has been thrown recently to Joel and his company to the Department of Trade and Industry; and even threats of elevating the entire domain name concern to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN, the organization that gave Disini the .ph mandate.

"The company intends to expand its domain and improve services and the products because the domain market is very aggressive," answered Joel when asked about the matter his company is in right now. The change in the mode of payment from lifetime to annual was one question that hit Joel's company pretty hard. "Everyone is doing it annually and to keep up with competition, we have to do the same."

If you try to analyze it, domain registry may be big business, especially if you are the sole registrar in your country. With more than 10,000 .ph registrants, paying at least $35 or so, annually, then money can actually just pour in. "They think we are raking money out of this move but actually we just want to improve everything."

Regarding the DotPhone services, Disini explains, "This is not losing the ph identity, as everyone would like you to believe, it will be just an extention of our current services" and continued, "we will retain the Philippine domain but at the same time adding phone features allowing your domain interact with any phone around the globe; we just have to keep up with technology and we are trying to do it right now."

"All this talk about losing the ph identity is pure paranoia," he firmly stressed. Commenting on why he is the pet peeve among a sector of the local Net society that has portrayed him as some sort of a cunning "manipulative ass" slowing down the growth of the country's Internet community, he can only say, "They don't know me, I'm always in my office and I work hard; I have my own theories as to their motives." And he stopped there. "This initiative I'm doing right now (free e-mail in remote areas) is more rewarding" Honestly? I asked. "Yes, honestly."

On that day, at least, I saw a Joel Disini that seemed to be uncomplicated and full of beliefs. On that day too, he put some smiles on the faces of Botoleños. Will he be able to do the same to his detractors?

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2001 PH Domain Foundation