MANILA — Lawmakers from the left-wing Makabayan bloc said Thursday they were seeking a House inquiry into the Department of Information and Communications Technology's alleged misuse of surveillance funds.
DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, who resigned from his post earlier this week, claimed his agency did not need P800 million in confidential fund that was supposed to be used for intelligence and surveillance this year.
A separate Commission on Audit report flagged some P300 million in cash advances given to DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan from the DICT’s confidential fund.
Minority Leader Benny Abante led the filing of a resolution to investigate the matter, said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, who noted that DICT's confidential funds doubled in 2020 from P400 million the previous year.
"Something is really afoot: bakit lumobo yung pondong 'yan and now lumalabas ito ay ginagamit sa surveillance?," he told reporters.
(Why did that fund swell and appeared to have been used for surveillance?)
Congress, he said, should also assert its oversight function by passing a proposed law seeking to create a committee that will monitor the national budget.
Meanwhile, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro said the confidential funds could have been better spent on social services, specifically the health department which was trying to contain a novel coronavirus outbreak.
"'Iyong scarce resources natin ay napupunta dito sa iba't ibang usapin ng katiwalian," added Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite.
(Our scarce resources are going to various issues of corruption.)
Out of the P4.1-trillion proposed national budget for 2020, P8.28 billion was earmarked for surveillance, the budget department's website showed.
President Rodrigo Duterte controls some P4.5 billion or about than half of what his government hopes to spend on surveillance in 2020. This includes P2.25 billion in intelligence funds and another P2.25 billion in confidential expenses.
The government's surveillance budget was at P5.57 billion in 2017, and increased to P8.16 billion in 2018, and went down to P7.032 billion in 2019, according to the National Expenditure Program submitted to the House of Representatives. - Report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News