eliseo rio
This file photo shows former Department of Information and Communications Undersecretary Eliseo Rio.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo
DICT: P300-M confidential funds ‘legitimately used’
Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - February 5, 2020 - 5:36pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Information and Communications Technology on Wednesday defended the agency’s controversial disbursement of P300 million in confidential funds, saying the money was “legitimately used.”

This was after former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, who recently quit his post, flagged the agency’s “questionable” spending on surveillance, which he said is not included in the mandate of the DICT.

Rio, a veteran of military communications, said the function of the DICT’s cybersecurity office is to secure the country from cyber threats, not to engage in intelligence activities.

'Information is key component of cyber security'

In a statement, the DICT hit news reports that “may have inaccurately misled the public” and argued that “[a] key component of cyber security is information gathering.”

“The information systems in our country needs continuous monitoring so that both domestic and foreign cyber threats and cyber-attacks can be identified, addressed, and promptly neutralized to protect the safety and security of our nation,” the department said.

The DICT explained that the P300-million confidential fund was disbursed in three tranches. The Commission on Audit allowed the spending of such funds and only told the DICT “to be more efficient in processing the relevant documents,” the department said.

“In sum, the Confidential Expense allocated in the 2019 [General Appropriations Act] was legitimately used for cybersecurity and the protection of our national security, with the safety of our government’s information facilities and institutions, and the welfare of our people, being the Department’s utmost priority,” the DICT said.

“Rest assured, that proper procedures were followed, and the disbursements were regular in accordance with applicable accounting and auditing laws, rules, and regulations,” it added.

According to a February 3 report by CNN Philippines, state auditors have called out the DICT after “[c]ash advances worth P300 million have been reportedly released to Secretary Gringo Honasan in late 2019, charged against the confidential funds” of the agency.

Rio, who led the entry of a third telco player in the country when he briefly took over as DICT acting secretary, had warned that such funds are not subject to regular audit. Reports say DICT Secretary Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan put the controversial amount in the agency’s budget when he was still a senator.

Senators said the Senate may look into Rio’s allegations.

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