DICT’s Rio quits, cites confidential fund anomaly

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
DICT�s Rio quits, cites confidential fund anomaly
In a letter dated Jan. 30, Rio cited accomplishments of the DICT that led to direct investments of P518.8 billion in the first 10 months of 2019 that “is almost equal to the contributions of all other sectors combined.”

MANILA, Philippines — Undersecretary Eliseo Rio of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has tendered his resignation to President Duterte even as he questioned the disbursement of hundreds of millions of pesos in the three-year-old agency’s confidential funds.

In a letter dated Jan. 30, Rio cited accomplishments of the DICT that led to direct investments of P518.8 billion in the first 10 months of 2019 that “is almost equal to the contributions of all other sectors combined.”

“It has truly been an honor working under your great administration and being given the chance to establish the third major telecommunications player in the industry, which is sure to bring about a significant change in telecommunications market for the benefit of the Filipino people,” Rio said.

Among the accomplishments he cited in his letter were the extension of the validity of the pre-paid load to one year; lowering of the interconnection charges to make text messages and mobile phone calls cheaper; free use of the 6,200 kilometers of “dark fiber” of National Grid Corp. for the country’s national broadband program, and the Common Tower project that would put up 50,000 new telecommunications structures to cope with the growing demand for faster internet and mobile access.

Rio, a former Army general who headed the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ communications, electronics and information systems until 2000, was appointed chief of the National Telecommunications Commission until 2002.

He held various positions at the DICT since its creation in 2016 and was appointed acting secretary in 2017 until Duterte appointed former senator Gregorio Honasan as permanent secretary in November 2018. Honasan formally assumed office on July 1, 2019 after his term in the Senate had ended.

Rio, however, indicated that there are more compelling reasons for his resignation and wanted to relay the matter personally and privately first to Duterte.

“The President must know first the full situation and he will decide what to do,” he told The STAR.

The official declined to give details on what he said were serious problems in the DICT that hamper the rollout of other urgent projects and the settling of basic obligations.

Rio said the main issue was the grant and questionable disbursements of P300 million in confidential funds of the DICT, which he said has no use for it, nor the mandate to conduct surveillance or intelligence activities.

He warned such funds are not subject to regular audit.

He said the agency’s cyber security office is meant not for surveillance but for securing the country from cyber threats.

Rio likened the agency’s situation to something akin to providing security system to a home or institution but when an intruder manages to break in, law enforcement units take over.

Asked about any rift with Honasan, Rio said: “I’m on record that I’ve been supportive of him.”

“But there are things that must be set right,” he said.

 “I’m proud to say that the DICT was a major contributor to the administration’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ program without any government funding or investments,” he added.

‘Facts on table’

When contacted by The STAR, Honasan was unperturbed, adding he has yet to forward the letter to Duterte.

“I will deal with the matter based on the facts as laid on my table,” Honasan said, referring to the contents of Rio’s letter that made no mention of issues against him.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s not yet resigned, until deemed so by the appointing authority (the President),” he said. At the time of the interview, Honasan was on the road aboard a motorcycle inspecting sites for telecommunications projects.

He declined to make an issue on the point that Rio did not raise his objections with him before submitting his resignation letter.

He said he would not be able to properly answer Rio’s allegations due to lack of details.

“If there are any problems, I’ll take full responsibility for it being the head of the department,” Honasan said.

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