Gringo Honasan may face Senate probe over DICT mess
MANILA, Philippines — Former Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II may soon find himself under scrutiny by two of his closest friends.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday said they had filed a resolution seeking to revive a special Senate committee that would look into the disbursement of intelligence funds of various government agencies.
Sotto and Lacson, who formed the so-called “Macho Bloc” in the upper chamber along with Honasan, filed Senate Resolution No. 310 on Monday after news of the resignation of Eliseo Rio Jr. as undersecretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) came out.
Rio said hundreds of millions in confidential funds of the department was used for intelligence activities upon instructions from Honasan, who was named by President Duterte to head the DICT after completing his second six-year term as senator in June last year.
Rio, who held the post as acting secretary before Honasan’s appointment, questioned the disbursement, arguing that it was not the mandate of the DICT to conduct intelligence and surveillance work.
The Commission on Audit (COA) has found that the DICT advanced a total of P300 million in cash for confidential expenses on three occasions in November and December without the required notice of cash allotment from the Department of Budget and Management.
The DICT had P400 million in confidential funds in 2019 and has P800 million for 2020.
Rio, a retired brigadier general, said it was Honasan who had sought the confidential fund for the DICT while he was still senator.
The confidential fund does not undergo the normal audit process, according to Rio.
He also noted that after Honasan assumed the top DICT post he had been left out of key decision-making crucial to his role as undersecretary of operations.
Sotto said he was not familiar with the issue involving Honasan, but said he had introduced a resolution with Lacson to reactivate the Senate Special Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds, Programs and Activities.
“It would be appropriate to hear the issue there,” Sotto said in a Viber message to the Inquirer.
In a three-page resolution, Sotto and Lacson cited the need to “reconstitute” the special committee to help the Senate “oversee the efficiency of concerned government institutions in the production of accurate and timely intelligence information.”
The pair noted that unlike other state funding, the annual budget for intelligence was not being subjected to rigorous examination by the COA.
P9.6-B intel fund for 2020
For this year, they said Congress had earmarked P9.6 billion for intelligence funds to finance the intelligence-gathering programs of different government offices.
The resolution called for the oversight committee to be headed by the chair of the Senate defense and security committee, currently held by Lacson, with four senators from the majority bloc and two from the minority as members.
Lacson and Sotto said the special committee would “investigate the efficiency of relevant government agencies in their use of intelligence and confidential funds for the prevention of crimes, apprehension of criminals, and protection of national security and territorial integrity.”
Sotto said the chamber may approve the resolution during its regular plenary session next week.
Lacson, a “mistah” (classmate) of Honasan in Philippine Military Academy Class 1971, said he was able to briefly speak with his former colleague about Rio’s allegations.
“(We spoke about it but) not at length. Here merely gave me a very brief and quick background on the issue at hand,” Lacson said.
Asked if the Senate was inclined to investigate Rio’s claims, he said: “That is the intention and reason why we are reconstituting the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds.”
But Lacson clarified that the inquiry would not be limited to the use of the DICT’s intelligence funds but would cover similar allocations of other agencies.Asked if the resolution was filed in connection with Rio’s allegations, he said: “I thought of that since I was designated chair of the national defense and security (committee).”
“For some reason, the resolution was filed only (on Monday),” the senator added.
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