DICT's Rio, Honasan 'settle differences' over P300-M intel funds

MANILA, Philippines – After questioning the use by the Department of Information and Communications Technology of P300 million allegedly for cybersecurity purposes, Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr backtracked and “settled differences” with Secretary Gregorio Honasan.

The DICT on Friday, February 7, released Rio and Honasan’s joint statement, which sought to “clarify” the issue on the use of the intel funds.

“To set the record straight, Undersecretary Rio never mentioned any anomaly in the disbursement of the confidential expense of the DICT. His statements about the need for confidential expenses may have been misinterpreted, and it is emphasized that these were his own personal views and not that of the department,” the statement read.

LOOK: DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan and Usec. Eliseo Rio Jr. issue a joint statement days after the latter questioned the agency’s use of confidential funds. @rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/ZlUY9xgjc0 — Ralf Rivas (@RalfRivas) February 7, 2020

While Rio never used the word “anomaly,” he issued strongly-worded statements before the media over the matter, adding that the DICT’s explanations were “deceiving and unbelievable.” Rio even went on to question how the agency was able to spend millions and liquidate the amount in just two months.

In various interviews, Rio also cited the issue as the reason for his resignation. However, the latest joint statement said that he resigned due to “personal reasons” and not because of any rift with Honasan or the intel funds.

"My resignation has not yet been approved by the President. I could not leave my post until my resignation is accepted by him," Rio said in a text message to Rappler.

An Audit Observation Memorandum dated January 20, excerpts of which were obtained by Rappler, revealed that the DICT underspent for its projects, leaving them a "huge balance" by the end of the year.

Honasan then used that balance as cash advance amounting to P300 million for his office's confidential and intelligence funds.

Not only did the action violate rules on confidential funds, it also led the Commission on Audit to say that DICT did not effectively perform its mandate for 2019, especially for cybersecurity.

The DICT insisted that the funds were used legitimately. 

It further said that the funds were not used for monitoring individuals, but were instead used for “lawful monitoring and surveillance of systems and network infrastructure.”

A retired Philippine Army general, Rio earlier said that while details of confidential operations cannot be divulged to the public, the results of such operations must be disclosed. Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.