De Lima seeks probe on alleged interference in DICT projects

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Senator Leila M. de Lima has called for a Senate investigation into the reported interference and corruption in DICT projects, notably the planned ₱77.9-billion national broadband network (NBN) project to ensure that no foreign companies will have control over public utilities in the country.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 522, De Lima suspected that Information and Communications Technology Secretary Rodolfo Salalima was compelled to resign because he could not stomach pressures appurtenant to big-ticket projects by the DICT, such as the ₱77.9-billion national broadband project

“Secretary Salalima’s allegations of corruption and interference are too significant to ignore, especially in the midst of the most ambitious government information technology (IT) project in history,” she said.

“It behooves the government to investigate these allegations of corruption, pursuant to its constitutional mandate to take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption, particularly considering the upcoming implementation by the DICT of a series of big-ticket projects involving billions of public funds,” she added.

Last Sept. 21, Salalima resigned from the Cabinet due to “personal and work-related reasons.” However, he was also quoted as saying that he was “having difficulties with the bureaucracy and politics of public service.”

Speaking during an emergency assembly of DICT employees, Salalima admitted he cannot deal with corruption and interference in the agency, hinting that he struggled to do the “right thing” while serving at the DICT.

President Duterte, however, disclosed he asked Salalima to resign because the latter allegedly has not acted on the entry of other telecommunication companies from China and Singapore into the country.

The former justice secretary explained that Salalima’s resignation came suspect as the DICT was about to implement a series of major projects, including the ₱77.9-billion national broadband project that is expected to provide high-speed internet connection to several areas in the Philippines.

“There is a real danger that Secretary Salalima’s successor will succumb to undue and corrupt pressure, as it appears that there is no institutional infrastructure in place to protect and insulate the DICT against political interference,” she said.

Last March, Chinese firm ZTE Corp. is one of the foreign firms interested in the government’s national broadband project. It is the same company that has gotten the controversial US$329-million NBN deal under the administration of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that implicated a number of government officials.

Aside from working hard on curbing corruption, De Lima pointed out that the present administration should do its best to protect the State from any national security threats by preventing foreign control over public utilities.

“The rationale behind maintaining domestic control over public utilities is the intention to keep out and prevent foreign control over public utilities, and involves the paramount interest of national security and defense,” she said.

De Lima explained that the defense and intelligence sectors of the government as well as relevant congressional bodies should be involved in the plan to involve foreign firms in the procurement and setting-up of a government national broadband network.

“Any proposed government national broadband network, in addition to serving as a public utility and common carrier of information and data, is primarily a matter of national security and defense, considering that it will facilitate control over, and access to, sensitive government information, databases, and communications,” she added.

Under Article XII, Section 11 of the Constitution, “no franchise, certificate, or any other form of authorization for the operation of a public utility shall be granted except to citizens of the Philippines or to corporations or associations organized under the laws of the Philippines, at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens; nor shall such franchise, certificate, or authorization be exclusive in character or for a longer period than fifty years.”

De Lima proposed that appropriate Senate committee should invite representatives from the Department of National Defense, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Security Adviser, and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency in the proposed Senate investigation into the IT project.

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