House minority wants probe on DICT confidential funds
Led by Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. and Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate Jr., the opposition lawmakers filed House Resolution 702 directing the House committee on good government and public accountability to conduct the investigation.
Michael Varcas/File
House minority wants probe on DICT confidential funds
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — At least 17 members of the minority bloc in the House of Representatives have sought an inquiry on where the P300-million confidential and alleged “surveillance” funds of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) went.

Led by Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. and Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate Jr., the opposition lawmakers filed House Resolution 702 directing the House committee on good government and public accountability to conduct the investigation.

Among those who signed the resolution were lawmakers from women’s group Gabriela, left-wing militant lawmakers, Reps. Christopher Belmonte (Quezon City), Stella Luz Quimbo and Bayani Fernando (both from Marikina), and Gabriel Bordado (Camarines Sur).

“With the current expose of DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio of suspected misuse of such fund, it behooves upon Congress to exercise its oversight powers and scrutinize how these funds are being expended,” they declared.

The lawmakers cited the “lack of transparency” of DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan in the disbursement of hundreds of millions of pesos in confidential funds for surveillance – a function beyond the mandate of the DICT.

Rio and Honasan, however, have recently issued a joint statement reportedly setting aside their differences.

Before this, though, Rio – a retired Army general and close friend of Honasan who was also an Army colonel in 1986 – disclosed that cash advances totaling P300 million were made toward the end of last year, without notifying the Department of Budget and Management.

The opposition lawmakers reminded Honasan that conducting surveillance is not part of the DICT’s mandate.

On the contrary, the agency “is mandated to ensure the rights of the individuals to privacy and confidentiality of their personal information.”

They said Rio cited conflicting views with other officials and the confidential funds lodged in the agency as the reason why he left his post.

Rio said other undersecretaries and assistant secretaries did not involve him in decision-making even if he was the undersecretary for operations.

The lawmakers also cited a Commission on Audit (COA) “audit observation” memorandum dated Jan. 20, where the DICT advanced P300 million in cash for confidential expenses on three occasions – P100 million each on Nov. 8, Dec. 3 and Dec. 17 last year – in pushing for the probe.

“Audit Observation Memorandum 2020-001 (2019) of the COA red-flagged the disbursement P300 million of the confidential fund in the form of three cash advances of P100 million. As of Jan. 20, the cash advances granted last December (have not yet been) liquidated,” they said.

They also mentioned in the resolution news reports claiming “that the P300-million confidential fund was inserted in the Senate at the time Honasan was still a senator.”

CONFIDENTIAL FUNDS DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
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