DICT quizzed for lending facilities to third telco 'for free'

Published September 21, 2021, 7:28 AM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Imee Marcos has questioned the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) for allegedly allowing the Dito Telecommunity use its facilities for free.

DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan II attends a Senate hearing on the alleged irregularties in the PhilHealth on August 11, 2020. (Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB/Facebook)

At the committee deliberation of the DICT’s proposed budget for 2022 on Monday, Sept. 20, Marcos raised a Commission on Audit (COA) report supposedly flagging the DICT for lending some of its facility to the country’s newest major telecommunication player free of charge.

“There’s also an issue regarding the DICT lending facilties for free to DITO [Telecommunity]. What facilities were leased, and do other telcos lease or borrow for free facilities from DICT? Why is this practice undertaken?” Marcos inquired during the Senate finance subcommittee’s hearing.

DICT Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II, in response, said they are “at a loss, when we are publicly, through media, or otherwise, confronted with issues like this.”

He had lamented being subjected to “trial by publicity” when the media reports about the COA’s findings.

But Marcos said her questions were based on official documents, and not news reports. She also said that she was raising the issues for when the senators debate on the agency’s budget in plenary.

“As much as possible, I try to use official documents. Eh, ito official document na, nasa COA na eh (But this one came from official document, it’s from the COA),” she told the DICT chief, who was a former senator himself.

“So did you or did you not lend facilities to DITO Telecom?” she asked.

Responding for Honasan, Undersecretary Emmanuel Caintic explained that leasing the government’s facilities to telecommunication companies had been a practice even before the DICT was established.

“I think the practice of leasing our properties has always been predates even [before] DICT…May mga properties po wherein the old telcos, Digitel, PLDT, sometimes lease our equipment para maglagay po ng tore (so they could put up towers),” Caintic told the Senate panel.

“So this is no different when the third telco came…Marami din pong (There are more) existing lease from the other telcos,” he added.

Marcos was still not satisfied, noting that it was the first time that state auditors made such observation.

“Kung talagang (If this has really been a part of the) custom, tradition, practice at functionality lang ito ng (and if this is only a functionality of the) DICT, hindi naman to uma-appear sa COA report, ba’t ngayon lumitaw (why is it only now that it appeared in the COA report)?” Marcos pressed.

Honasan, again, did not address the lawmaker’s concern, and instead raised that the DICT has long been renting at the University of the Philippines’ (UP) campus in Quezon City despite the department having “several hectares of property”.

He insisted this is a more pressing issue, and asked the senators to augment their budget for next year to continue rehabilitating their office buildings on the agency’s property.

According to the COA’s management letter to Honasan last July 21, a total of P9,781,650 in lease income from DITO’s use of the department’s assets “were not recorded in the books of accounts due lack of coordination” between concerned bureaus, “leading to the understatement of operating lease receivable and rent/lease income”.

The amount covered payments from July to November, 2020, the COA said.

During the hearing, Honasan claimed that some officers of the COA admitted to him that the auditors’ “appreciation for due diligence and what is supposed to be applied by law [are] limited”.

“Sa kanila black or white. At ‘pag nagleak ito sa media, ito po ang resulta (To them, it’s black and white. And when their reports get leaked to the media, this is the result),” he answered Marcos when also asked about the DICT’s procurement based on COA reports.