MANILA – Ex-DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio defended Thursday the department's decision to tap the United Nations Development Program for the government's Free Public Internet Access Program.
Speaking to ANC's Rundown, Rio said the department needed the UNDP's expertise to provide free Wi-Fi in selected areas around the country.
“It’s the biggest deployment of VSATS or satellite Wi-Fis, hotspots in the country. And UNDP has the expertise, it has access to VSAT and satellite providers. That’s why we partnered with them," he said.
“And of course we know that UNDP has been helping development programs in the Philippines since 1946 at walang bahid ng kahit anong anomalya, no corruption issues, ‘no.”
“And also I was thinking of isolating DICT from favoritism and corruption issues when I decided that,” he added.
Rio added that the project was fully studied by DICT engineers and lawyers before it was implemented.
He also noted that the problems cited by the House panel arose during the project’s implementation—at which time he was no longer in the DICT.
Rio left the DICT in May 2020.
“Pagbintangan mo ba yung tatay na bumili ng kotse na dahil winasak nung anak na siya nagda-drive?” Rio asked.
“So it’s something like that ‘no? It is in the implementation of the program, and it was inaugurated on March 5 of 2020, ‘no, 10 days before the pandemic, the lockdown was implemented ‘no, the longest lockdown in the whole world started March 15.”
“I stayed at DICT up to May 22 of 2020, two months after the inauguration, and it was doing well, the project was doing well. In fact in spite of the lockdown we were able to put up 200, more than 200 sites all over the country, and it was used in fact for the pandemic response of the government,” he said.
“When these investigations started, it is about later part of 2021 ‘no, about October of 2021, so I have been out of DICT for more than one year when the investigation started. And who was implementing the program? Of course it was Secretary Honasan.”
“In other words, why blame me when I am already not in charge of anything regarding the project and it has been already with Secretary Honasan since May 22 of 2020?” Rio said.
The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability wants charges filed against Rio in connection with the Free Wi-Fi project.
In a statement, Committee Chair and DIWA Party-list Representative Michael Aglipay said they recommended the filing of charges against Rio for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.
“After three hearings and almost five months of deliberations and committee report preparation, I am proud to report to our countrymen that we have recommended to file charges against former DICT Secretary Eliseo Rio for his negligence in entering with agreements with (United Nations Development Program) and for poor implementation of the project (and) failure to look out for best interest of the Filipino people” Aglipay said.
The panel said that the DICT committed non-feasance--or failure to perform an act required by law--when it transferred the management of and funds for the Pipol Konek Project to the UNDP.
The DICT also committed misfeasance when it entered into the financing agreement with the UNDP for the implementation of the project, the House Committee said, adding that the DICT could have resorted to procurement on its own as it did with the other suppliers for the implementation of the FPIAP.
The committee also found that the DICT-UNDP Pipol Konek Project failed to use satellite technology to connect 6,000 sites in remote, vulnerable and off-grid communities in the country and provide free public Wi-Fi access there.
The panel also found that the UNDP was not able to resolve the issues with its foreign contractor, an Australian firm called Speedcast.
The committee noted that the project faced delays due to Speedcast’s alleged undervaluing of shipments of IT equipment needed for the project and their reported filing of a petition under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Law.
There were also issues with the selection of the areas where free public Wi-Fi access would be provided, the committee noted.
“In this last two years of the pandemic from 2020-2022 our people deserve free reliable internet for our public-school students learning from home. This project was a great concept but sadly plagued by negligence that made our countrymen suffer," Aglipay also said.
Rio said he is ready to face any charges against him.
--ANC, 13 January 2022