By Ellson Quismorio
A House leader has issued a reminder against demonizing anyone in connection with the P300-million Department of Information and Communication (DICT) fund mess until everything is made clear.
Deputy Majority Leader and Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo made this appeal Monday even as the House of Representatives appeared poised to hold an inquiry to determine whether or not the usage of the department’s confidential funds was above board.
“Definitely, let’s not be quick to demonize anybody. We should get to the bottom of things first,” said Romualdo, a lawyer.
Earlier, some 17 House members headed by Minority Leader Manila Rep. Benny Abante filed House Resolution (HR) No.702, directing the House committee on good government and public accountability to look into former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr.’s expose on the alleged lack of transparency in the disbursement of P300 million worth of confidential funds, which the agency claimed was used for surveillance.
Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate has questioned this, arguing that surveillance is beyond the mandate of the DICT.
Others were quick to pounce on DICT Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II, and asked that he be probed about the P300 million fund that the agency took in the form of three cash advances worth P100 million each on Nov. 22, Dec. 2, and Dec. 17 last year.
“Right now, the whole issue seems to be a ‘he said, he said’ and it also seems that there are different interpretations on the DICT’s mandate,” said Romualdo, who was the good government and public accountability panel chair during the tail end of the previous 17th Congress.
Rio Jr. resigned as DICT undersecretary earlier this month and placed the spotlight on the P300 million confidential expenses. He was the DICT acting secretary before ex-military man Honasan’s entry into the agency in July 2019.
Rio went as far to say that DICT’s explanation for the fund usage, particularly in the month-long time frame, was “deceiving and unbelievable.”
Then Rio and Honasan issued a joint statement a few days later claiming that the disbursement was “lawful and legitimate” and was used solely for the purpose of protecting the country’s cyber security and national security.
Romualdo said a House probe would clear things up regarding the DICT’s mandate. “I’d support a legislative inquiry on the matter. This should clear up the issue on what the DICT’s functions truly are and whether the use of the funds was lawful.”