Senator De Lima urges Senate panel to probe alleged irregular use of DICT’s P300-M intel funds

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Senator Leila de Lima has sought for a Senate inquiry into the alleged irregular use and disbursement by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) of its P300-million confidential and intelligence funds.

Last February 12, De Lima filed Senate Resolution 321 urging the appropriate Senate committee to look into the possible misuse and alleged irregular disbursement of the DICT’s confidential, intelligence and extraordinary funds purportedly for surveillance in 2019.

“There is (a) need to determine the propriety of appropriating confidential and intelligence funds, which are given to agencies involved in protecting national security and upholding peace and order, to the DICT,” De Lima said.

Last Feb. 3, DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio resigned from his post after he divulged the lack of transparency in the disbursement of the department’s confidential, intelligence and extraordinary funds amounting to some P300 million.

According to him, these funds were released in three tranches – P100 million each on Nov. 8, Dec. 3, and Dec. 17 last year – as a “cash advance for confidential expenses in connection with cybersecurity activities.”

The Commission on Audit (COA) has reportedly flagged down the alleged irregular releases of these funds from confidential expenses. Only the first disbursement has been reportedly liquidated so far.

These cash advances done during the last quarter of 2019, according to COA Audit Observation Memorandum 2020-001 issued last Jan. 20, left the DICT with “very little time in accomplishing its desired cybersecurity programs.”

The lady Senator from Bicol explained that the Senate need to ascertain the extent that these confidential and intelligence operations do not violate the country’s laws on data privacy and much less, violate the rights of due process.

“The Senate, in the exercise of its oversight function, is now duty-bound to scrutinize how DICT made use of its confidential and intelligence funds, especially since such function is clearly absent in its mandate under the law,” she said.

“If unchecked, confidential and intelligence funds, can be subjected to massive corruption due to its limited transparency. This, it must be strictly monitored and implemented in accordance with law,” she added.

Last month, De Lima supported Senate Resolution 310 reviving the Senate Select Oversight Committee on Intelligence and Confidential Funds tasked to scrutinize the government’s use and disposal of intelligence, confidential and extraordinary funds.

In July 2019, she has also filed Senate Bill 377 which seeks to create a Joint Congressional Intelligence Committee (JCIC) to ensure that government agencies are accountable to the use of intelligence and confidential funds entrusted to them.

Under SB 377, all entities of the Philippine government which conduct intelligence activities and receive intelligence funds must keep the JCIC fully informed of all its intelligence activities, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity and any significant intelligence failure.

Once enacted into law, the measure mandates concerned government offices to obtain a signed letter from the President, or from the respective head of the constitutional body in cases involving entities enjoying fiscal autonomy, specifically authorizing the proposed intelligence activity before any amount is disbursed and expended for the proposed intelligence activity. /Stacy Ang

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