House probe on alleged use of DICT confidential funds for snooping sought
MANILA, Philippines — Some lawmakers from the minority bloc of the House of Representatives have called for an investigation on the alleged use of the Department of Information and Communication Technology’s (DICT) confidential funds for surveillance activities.
The legislators on Wednesday filed House Resolution No. 702, a copy of which was obtained by the media on Thursday.
The resolution was filed merely days after the resignation of DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr., who said that hundreds of millions in confidential funds of the agency were used for intelligence activities such as surveillance – a move he opposes, saying that such a function is beyond the mandate of DICT.
In the resolution, the lawmakers argued that while the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC) is an attached office of DICT, it is not created to spy on civilians.
According to them, the cybersecurity office was created to “secure the nation’s cyberspace from cyber threats.”
“The allocation of very huge confidential funds for DICT is just part of the unprecedented increase of the confidential and intelligence fund of the different agencies under the present administration,” the resolution stated.
“With the current expose of former DICT Undersecretary Engr. Rio of suspected misuse of such funds, it behooves upon Congress to exercise its oversight powers and scrutinize how [these] funds are being expended,” it added.
DICT is mandated to “ensure the rights of individuals to privacy and confidentiality of their personal information, ensure the security of critical ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure including information assets of the government, individuals, and businesses and to provide oversight over agencies governing and regulating the ICT sector.”
It is also tasked to ensure consumer protection and welfare, data privacy and security, foster competition and the growth of the ICT sector.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Rio said it was former senator and incumbent DICT Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II who sought for the confidential funds for the department during his stint in the Senate.
The confidential fund does not undergo the normal audit process, said Rio.
According to the 2019 General Appropriations Act, P400 million in confidential funds were allocated to DICT. This amount doubled to P800 million in 2020.
Further, a review of the Commission on Audit found that DICT advanced a total of P300 million in cash for confidential expenses. This was done on November 22, December 2 and December 17, 2019, at P100 million per pay out.
At the upper chamber, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson said they had filed a resolution that would look into the disbursement of intelligence funds of government agencies.
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