The P1.2-billion fund that was previously transferred by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) had been returned to the national treasury, a lawmaker bared on Monday.
Northern Samar Rep. Paul R. Daza said the inter-agency transfer of the fund for the project, NCR Fiber Optic Backbone Development and Network Resiliency, was a hotly contested issue as the previous year ended.
“It’s another win for the Filipino taxpayers!” said Daza in a news statement.
“I’m happy to note that said funds had already been transferred to the Bureau of the Treasury last month. Clearly, the two house committees and their chairpersons Florida ‘Rida’ Robes and Tobias ‘Toby’ Tiangco, had done an excellent job. The people’s will has won,” Daza added.
During the December 6 joint committee hearing, which was attended by relevant government agencies such as DICT, MMDA, and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), it was revealed that the DICT’s internal counsel strongly advised against the transfer, citing the principle of ultra vires, meaning that such an endeavor is “beyond the scope and power” of the agency.
Daza also lauded former MMDA chairperson, now Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. for ensuring the return of the funds. “Secretary Abalos’ efforts in reaching out to MMDA, I believe, contributed to the positive outcome,” Daza said.
Asked about the next step in Congress, Daza is hopeful that the practice of interagency transfers will be deeply scrutinized by the House of Representatives and DBM.
“I am aware that it is being done every now and then. However, there should be clearer guidelines and accountability,” Daza added.
He reiterated that there is nothing totally wrong about downloading funds as long as the DBM approves and said funds will be spent in helpful and meaningful projects. “As with anything in government, please, let’s just do it right. Let’s do it for the peace of mind of our taxpayers.”
Daza also called on DICT to ensure that critical programs such as the free Wi-Fi and national broadband will be fast tracked, given the problematic rollout in the past aggravated by delays caused by the pandemic.
He mentioned the use of technology to improve budget monitoring in line with the government’s proposed digitization efforts.
On November 4, 2022, the City of Baguio, under orders from Mayor Benjamin Magalong, also returned P692 million worth of funds to the DICT due to a mutual agreement to terminate the Digital Transformation Center project.
Adding that together with the recently returned P1.2 billion from the MMDA, the total amount returned for DICT-related projects now amount to almost P1.8 billion.
“There’s a silver lining in all of these. We’re hopeful that DICT has also learned from this and will expedite its backlogged critical projects. The neediest communities in far-flung barangays are still waiting to be connected, especially through the free Wi-Fi program, which was given an additional allocation of P2.5 billion in 2023,” Daza said.