By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House minority bloc has filed a resolution seeking a probe into the alleged use of P300 million confidential funds of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) for surveillance.
House Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr. and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate led the filing of House Resolution (HR) No. 702 on Wednesday (Feb.5), urging the House committee on good government and public accountability to look into the alleged misuse of DICT funds.
“This should be investigated. If they will invoke national security, it is for Congress to decide. But they have to come to Congress, we have to exercise our oversight function over the budget,” Zarate told reporters in a press conference on Thursday (Feb. 6).
“They can only invoke that at the proper time, when they are already here, when they are summoned to answer questions. If they believe that it concerns national security, we can have an executive session.”
He said former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. should appear before the House to shed light on the controversy. “It appears that there was realignment of funds. We should investigate this because those funds are not for surveillance or intelligence gathering.”
Zarate also said the DICT officials, particularly DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II, have a lot of explaining to do. “They should explain and be held accountable for every peso that has been allocated to them by Congress.”
According to a Commission on Audit (COA) audit observation memorandum dated Jan. 20, the DICT advanced P300 million in cash for confidential expenses on three occasions — P100 million each on Nov. 22, Dec. 2, and Dec. 17 last year.
“These were made in the name of Honasan, who also requested the funds, which were to be used for ‘confidential expenses in connection with cyber security activities,’” it said.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite noted that this year, the Office of the President has been allocated P4 billion intelligence funds.
For her part, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro said, “This is an issue of transparency and accountability.”
Zarate said they received reports that such “anomalous” funds were used for surveillance. “The question is who were put under surveillance? … Is that even part of the mandate of the DICT? This should definitely have to be probed and Congress’ oversight powers should be exercised to investigate this.”
He said the alleged misuse of funds by the DICT should prod the Lower Chamber to pass House Bill No. 6184, which seeks to create the Congressional Oversight Committee on the National Budget.
Under HR 702, the opposition lawmakers said “the DICT has absolutely no need for any confidential and intelligence fund and the alleged conduct of surveillance activities of the DICT is a useless duplication of the activities done by intelligence gathering agencies.”
Citing the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), they noted that in the 2019 General Appropriations Act, DICT received P803 million for confidential, extraordinary and miscellaneous, and intelligence expenses, of which P800 million is appropriated for confidential expenses of the DICT-Office of the Secretary.
In relation to this, HR 702 stated: “The allocation of a very huge confidential fund for DICT is just part of the unprecedented increase of the confidential and intelligence fund of the different department and agencies under the present administration.
“With the current expose of former DICT Undersecretary Rio of suspected misuse of such funds, it behooves upon Congress to exercise its oversight powers and scrutinize how these funds are being expended.”