Malacanang has squarely put the blame on former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) secretary Rodolfo Salalima for the delayed signing of the agreement for the establishment of the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure (LBI) between the Philippine government and tech giant Facebook.
The LBI deal, which calls for the construction of two cable landing stations in Aurora and La Union that will be connected by a 250-kilometer overland cable network, was supposed to have been signed in December 2016 but Salalima chose not to act on it.
“It was not signed by the former secretary of DICT and this was one of the areas pinpointed by Cabinet investigators as an area of conflict of interest for the former secretary of DICT,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was quoted by online news outfit Rappler during a Palace press briefing on Monday, Nov. 20.
Prior to being named as the first secretary of the DICT, Salalima served as the long-time legal counsel of Ayala-owned telco Globe Telecom. When he unceremoniously quit the DICT post in September, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte said he asked Salalima to resign due to “conflict of interest.?
Duterte did not expound on his pronouncement then, but it is only now that administration officials are substantiating that claim against Salalima.
At the same time, the DICT is also distancing itself from Salalima, who has yet to comment on the allegations hurled against him.
DICT undersecretary and officer-in-charge Eliseo Rio, for instance, said in a Facebook post that it was ?almost traitorous? for the government not to proceed with the project considering its tremendous benefits to the country.
This is quite a departure from the gracious attitude it had during the early days following Salalima?s exit when it even vowed to continue the initiatives and policies initiated by Salalima.
A reliable source told Newsbytes.PH that Salalima effectively derailed the project by repeatedly questioning a vague provision on ?suability? in the contract with Facebook.
Being a lawyer, Salalima apparently wanted to make sure that the Philippine government cannot be sued or charged in court if the terms of the agreement are not met.
This issue, however, appeared trivial to Rio, an engineer and former general in the Armed Forces, who saw the huge impact and importance of the project in speeding up the broadband speed in the country.
With Salalima out of the picture, Rio wasted no time securing Malacanang?s permission and was given the go-signal to sign the deal even if he is just an OIC of the department, the source said.
Unlike Salalima who had no Facebook account, Rio also actively and patiently explained the LBI project in his social media postings.
In an extended online discussion with former telco executive Roger Quevedo, who said the agreement ?may not be the best solution? [a]nd may result in a deal of exclusivity,? Rio said such scenario is far-fetched.
?Facebook will be the first to use the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure when completed. But we expect that the other 7 or so submarine cable owners that have the same problem of experiencing cable breaks because of earthquakes and typhoon in the Luzon Strait will follow suit, increasing the spectrum capacity available to the government from 2 terabits to maybe around 18 terabits,? he said.