DICT warns against budget diversion to fund free tuition

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DEPARTMENT of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Rodolfo A. Salalima said that he “cannot comply” with his mandate of improving ICT if the budget for his department is realigned by Congress.

His remarks follow the proposal of Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, Chairperson of the House Committee on Appropriations, to use supposed under-utilized budgets of certain national government agencies to fund the tuition fees of students of state universities and colleges (SUCs).

On Aug. 3, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed into law Republic Act (RA) No. 1093, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.

Prior to the signing of the law, the president’s economic managers warned that the measure will cost the government as much as P100 billion per year.

“You enacted RA 10844… the totality of the mandate is to improve the quality of life of the Filipino people, via the use of ICT… My budget is towards complying with the legal mandate, and I cannot comply with that mandate unless there is a budget,” Mr. Salalima said, referring to the law which established the DICT.

“It is the normal right and duty of our congressmen to scrutinize all the budgets of the departments, given that we are developing countries, and we are not flowing with much money…give them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing it for the benefit of the country,” Mr. Salalima said in English and Filipino on the sidelines of a conference.

Mr. Salalima noted that the underutilization of the estimated P3.2-billion budget allocated for 2016 was due to lack of manpower for executing projects, as the department was only in its first year of operations.

“Our budget is purely for countryside development, and our budget is for improving the telecommunications service in the country, and that includes precisely, the speeding up of the Internet. And you have to build structures. Without these structures, you cannot speed up the Internet.”

“We had P3.2 billion, which was under-utilized, in the sense that our structural organization was only approved this June 2017. Naturally, because we lack manpower, we cannot use all these for countryside development and…[ensuring] efficient telecommunications service,” Mr. Salalima said.

Mr. Salalima added: “We had to manage many projects at one time outside of those projects which we’re supposed to install last year under the mandate of the President, the Wifi Portal. So we had to prioritize that over other developments.”

Mr. Salalima also said that part of the under-utilized budget for 2016 went to projects under contract, projects under procurement, and projects that were completed but not yet paid for because the department is examining if the projects are “functioning effectively according to the terms of reference.”

Mr. Salalima said regarding the P6.2-billion budget for next year: “We can implement (the projects) and we can fully utilize (the budget).”

One of the priorities for the coming year is the augmentation of cyber security measures.

“We have to speed up the procurement of cyber security equipment, because cybercrimes and cyber-attacks are on the upswing as far as the number and gravity of attacks are concerned,” Mr. Salalima said.

Mr. Salalima maintained an optimistic tone regarding the state of the budget of the department: “I have no doubt that in the end, the legislators will be wise enough that I cannot legally comply with that mandate, unless they give me a budget.” — Patrizia Paola C. Marcelo