The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) was asked to explain why text scams continue even when millions have already registered their SIM cards.
Over 118 million subscribers have completed the process, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) said during the budget hearing of the DICT and its attached agencies before the House Committee on Appropriations on Thursday.
The Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, an attached agency of the DICT, attributes the continued text scams to the purchase of registered SIM cards by organized syndicates, as well as new machines that can simulate SIM cards.
“While the SIM registration deadline has passed, many are still facing text scams and other forms of SIM-assisted fraud,” Kabataan Party List Representative Raoul Manuel said.
“We have uncovered that certain organized syndicates have been procuring pre-registered sim cards. That is one issue we have raised with telcos and the DICT family to formulate how to address the issue of selling of pre-registered SIM cards,” CICC Executive Director Alexander Ramos told the lawmaker.
“The second one is there are new machines that came into the country, wherein you don’t even need a sim card, but rather a text blaster that can simulate sim card numbers. We are coordinating with the Bureau of Customs, educating them what it looks like so that they will be able to prevent the importation of such machines,” he added.
CICC urged the public to report text scams, which Ramos said, will help authorities to identify the source of the message. He added that based on recent data, sources of such messages were tracked in the southern part of Manila, parts of Mindanao and parts of Quezon City.
“Unlike before, we didn’t have the power to prosecute them, in fact arrest them once located. But the sim card registration enabled us already,” Ramos said.
“We have a lot of names. In fact we have thousands of names here that we are verifying right now. We are doing it with the use of AI to weed out the real registered and the fake registered names,” he added.
The National Privacy Commission, meanwhile, assured lawmakers that it is conducting checks whether government agencies and private entities that collect personal data from the public are complying with data protection standards. NPC said it sends warning letters to those that the commission deems are lacking proper security measures.
The DICT, meanwhile, defended the P300 million confidential funds it seeks for 2024, after it managed to operate without such funds last year and this year.
“Ang laking complaints na natatanggap namin lalu sa cyberscammers, illegal online gambling sites. Mas marami ang aming nagagawa kung nagkaroon kami noon. For 2022-2023 dahil wala kami noon, we are trying to be more creative. In some instances, nanghihiram na lang kami ng resources from PNP, from DOJ upang matugunan itong cyberthreats na nangyayari,” DICT Secretary Ivan John Uy told the panel.
“Dahil sa geopolitical situation natin, lalung nag-increase ang cyberthreat landscape natin, potential for mga attacks from outside the country. Medyo struggling tayo. Without those funds, we will not be able to thoroughly protect our cyber borders,” he added.
“May sense naman na dapat mayroon din ang DICT, dahil sa trabaho ninyo na sinasabi ni Secretary, that could be rationalized. ‘Wag lang ang DepEd, kasi ang DepEd hindi naman nila trabaho,” ACT Teachers Party List Representative France Castro noted.
Lawmakers grilled the DICT over its slow budget utilization. The agency has so far disbursed only 6% of its continuing appropriations from 2022 and its 2023 allotment, more than halfway through the year. But from the 2023 allotment alone, the disbursement rate is higher, at 43%.
“This number is how we will assess you. Because we want to be fair with all other agencies… As far as we are concerned, this is your BUR (budget utilization rate): 6%,” House Committee on Appropriations Vice Chairperson and Marikina 2nd District Representative Stella Quimbo said.
“’Yung 2022 hinila pababa ‘yung average, 2022 was an election year, and you inherited funds from the previous administration… Nag-improve naman,” Makati 2nd District Representative Luis Campos Jr. explained.
Last year, DICT’s unobligated allotment was at around P9 billion. Of this amount, P4.6 billion was reverted to the national treasury. Of the remaining P4.7 billion which may still be used this year, only P735 million have been obligated so far. But the DICT said P2.6 billion of the continuing appropriations are already under procurement process for different programs, including items for the National Broadband Program.
As a result of the slow budget utilization, the DICT has reduced its target for new free wifi sites this year to 9,600 by the end of 2023 from the initial 10,800. But the department plans to light up 15,000 new sites next year. Most fiber connections for the National Broadband Program, meanwhile, are expected to be laid out by 2026.
The agency targets to increase its budget utilization rate to 70% by end of the year.
“The project management team that we have are mainly job order positions. Those are new people within the organization as well. There is an issue also of initially of unpaid payables with respect to certain companies, which is also an issue with respect to our capacity in order for other bidders to join our project,” DICT Undersecretary Heherson Asiddao explained.
“We have made some realignments and organizational changes so that we can be able to procure more and speed up our utilization rate,” he added.
Quimbo proposes a “fallback” to help speed up DICT’s budget utilization.
“Pwede kayang gamitin n’yo nalang ‘yung funds to purchase free wifi cards from a private service provider at ‘yun nalang muna ang ipamigay sa mga tao? Halimbawa, in urban areas. Because it’s so difficult to actually award bids… Meanwhile, we waste funds. Meanwhile, andaming taong walang access sa wifi, which means you deprive students of learning opportunities. And that has tremendous impact,” she said.
“It will still be in line with the mandate of providing free wifi, albeit it will be of a temporary nature. So stop gap tayo. Wasted time can never be brought back for this children,” Campos added.
Lawmakers also suggested early bidding for 2024 projects, an undersecretary and an assistant secretary dedicated to procurement, and an assessment of which programs in the proposed 2024 budget may be slow-moving. DICT has a proposed P8.7 billion budget for next year. The house panel terminated the agency’s budget deliberations Thursday night.
(03:39:45) “Project what would be underutilized for 2024, given the history and then realign within the agency for faster moving projects,” Northern Samar 1st District Representative Paul Daza said.
“Thats what we’re looking into. Because of our projected BUR of 70%, we’re identifying the remaining 30%, which are slow moving ones and we will be proposing for utilizing that on faster moving projects,” Uy replied.
The National Privacy Commission is conducting a motu propio investigation into reports of improper disposal of national IDs. Earlier reports on social media said about 100 national IDs were discovered in the garbage dump in Barangay Tiling, Cauayan, Negros Occidental.
The NPC said it has requested the barangay involved, the post office, and the Philippine Statistics Authority to issue an explanation on the matter.
The DICT, meanwhile, admitted that national ID cards had a vulnerability, but it was already addressed.
“Mayroong madaling paraan para ma-recreate ang QR code ng PVC ID natin?” Manuel asked.
“We confirm that confidentially we reported to the President about that particular vulnerability. That was already as of fixed two months or three months ago,” DICT Undersecretary Jeffrey Ian Dy replied.