DICT owes telcos big money, solons learn in House panel hearing

At a glance

  • The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has huge debts to telecommunications companies PLDT and Globe, House of Representatives officials learn during a House Committee on Appropriations hearing Thursday, May 25.

  • The debts are in connection with DICT's free public Wi-Fi program.

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Ranking House of Representatives members told the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) on Thursday, May 25 to immediately settle their huge debts to three of the biggest telecommunications companies (telcos) in the country.

DICT's debt woes were uncovered when Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Northern Samar 1st district Rep. Paul Daza inquired about the agency's problematic free public Wi-Fi program, during Thursday's House Committee on Appropriations hearing.

It quickly became apparent that the DICT's non-payment of the services of telcos PLDT, Globe, and Converge was the chief reason why the free Wi-Fi program is in its sorry state wherein there's practically no usable bandwidth.

According to the agency's records, it has payables of around P1 billion to PLDT, and P500 million to Globe.

“You have so much money, pay them," Daza told DICT, referring to the telcos.

"We already had this discussion last October. The businesses are hurting, ang daming pera (there's a lot of money), you would be helping these large companies so they don’t retrench. You have the private sector and then now you can partly solve the issues on the implementation of free public Wi-Fi," the veteran solon said.

"Your problem is not procurement now. Nobody wants to participate, ang daming utang (there is a lot of debt),” the exasperated Daza noted.

DICT Assistant Secretary Heherson Asiddao, a resource person in the hearing, told the panel they have begun paying the "documented payables" in connection with the free Wi-Fi program.

He said that by the third quarter of 2023, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) will have released the P1.5 billion that DICT would use to pay its debt to telcos.

However, appropriations panel senior vice chairperson, Marikina City 2nd district Rep. Stella Quimbo didn't accept this response, as she pointed out that DICT already has P2.5 billion in cash that it can use to settle the debt.

“Third quarter? So maghihintay pa tayo ng two more months? (So we will wait two more months?) Secretary [Ivan] Uy, that is unacceptable," Quimbo said, referring to the DICT chief.

"You have P2.5 billion with you in cash today and you have huge payables which is one of the obstacles. As far as we are concerned, unacceptable po yun (that is unacceptable). You need to settle that today," underscored the lady solon.

But Asiddao insisted on the third quarter release of the funds, based on the agency's cash program.

Asked for comment by the solons, DBM Budget and Management Specialist James Evangelista said that it's possible for the funds to be released earlier as long as DICT is able to comply with the documentary requirements.