Malacanang has reportedly designated an officer-in-charge (OIC) at the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) two weeks after the agency’s secretary, Rodolfo “Rudy” Salalima, unexpectedly quit his post.
Sources told Newsbytes.PH that DICT undersecretary Eliseo Rio has been named OIC on Sept. 22 based on a Palace document issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary.
The designation of Rio, a former general in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and chair of the National Telecommunications Commission, also means that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte has formally accepted the resignation of Salalima, his classmate at San Beda College of Law.
However, DICT assistant secretary Carlos Caliwara, who is the chief-of-staff of Salalima, said there’s no official word yet from Malacanang regarding the designation of an OIC.
“None yet. It’s hard to speculate without official communication from Malacanang,” said Caliwara, a fraternity brother of Duterte at San Beda College of Law and one of the candidates for the DICT post.
The news of Salalima’s resignation, which was first reported by Newsbytes.PH, created a maelstrom in the media especially when the former DICT chief himself cited “interference” and “corruption” as his reasons for leaving the government.
This has also prompted Sen. Leila M. de Lima to call for a Senate investigation into DICT projects, notably the planned P77.9-billion national broadband network (NBN) project.
In filing Senate Resolution No. 522, De Lima suspected that Salalima was compelled to resign because he could not stomach pressures appurtenant to big-ticket projects by the DICT, such as the P77.9-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 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.
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.
De Lima explained that Salalima’s resignation came suspect as the DICT was about to implement a series of major projects, including the P77.9-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. was one of the foreign firms interested in the government’s national broadband project. It is the same company that has gotten the controversial $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.