By Ben Rosario
Secretary Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan III and key officials of the Department of Information and Communications Technology were stunned in last night’s budget debates after the House of Representatives leadership abruptly declared the session suspended without even initiating the DICT budget defense.
Reps. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado (NUP, Bulacan) and Angel Campos (UNA, Makati City) who were scheduled to take turns in defending the P5.2 billion budget of the agency were likewise caught by surprise. The two are vice-chairmen of the Committee on Appropriations.
“I do not know why this happened. But it’s the call of the majority, I am just here to defend the DICT budget,” said Campos.
Sy-Alvarado, newly elected chairman of the House Committee on Good Government, was himself flabbergasted by the turn of events.
“It’s okay,” Honasan told his staff as soon as Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu, who presided over the plenary session, banged the gavel to end last night’s session.
Abu announced that session was to be suspended at around 8:35 pm, the earliest that the chamber went on dismissal since the debates on the proposed 2020 General Appropriations Act started Monday last week.
Sessions usually end around 10 pm at the earliest since the launching of the budget debates.
“I think there are certain issues that Secretary Honasan and the DICT failed to resolve with the House leadership. Whatever it is, clearly [it] is very important,” said a senior administration lawmaker who requested anonymity.
“This is worse than being deferred. At least you know what’s wrong if your budget deliberation is deferred,” the solon added.
As the members of the DICT staff left the floor, Honasan reportedly went to see key officials of the chamber to seek clarification of the House action.
A former DICT official said the suspension of the budget deliberation could be linked to complaints aired by certain House members over the free wifi project that the agency will award to two of the biggest telecommunications firms in the country.
The DICT budget proposes to allocate P1.2 billion to put up new Wi-Fi hotspots that would provide the public free internet connectivity in 2020.
In a report submitted to Congress, the DICT said it has so far installed password-free Wi-Fi hotspots “in 2,330 sites covering all 17 regions across 73 provinces in over 640 municipalities and cities” as of April 1, 2019.
The fresh funding for the Free Internet Wi-Fi Connectivity in Public Places Project is lodged in the DICT budget in the proposed P4.1-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2020.