Rio on troubled implementation of free internet project: 'Why blame me?'

Rio on troubled implementation of free internet project: 'Why blame me?'

MANILA, Philippines — Former Department of Information and Communications (DICT) undersecretary Eliseo Rio is questioning why he is being blamed for the alleged irregularities in the government’s free internet program even while he also said he is ready to face charges.

“How could I be blamed for the period that I am no longer in DICT when the people who took over to implement the program did not do so?” Rio, who left the DICT in 2020, told on Tuesday.

Rio’s remark comes after the House committee on good governance and public accountability recommended that charges be filed against him for being the one who signed the financing agreement between the DICT and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the government’s free Wi-Fi project.

According to the House panel, the DICT committed nonfeasance when it transferred the management of and funds for the Pipol Konek Project — which is one of the aspects of the free internet program — to the UNDP.

Further, the committee said the DICT committed misfeasance when it entered into the financing agreement with the UNDP for the implementation of the free internet program.

However, Rio said the Commission on Audit’s (COA) report in 2019 had already flagged the DICT regarding the transfer of funds to the UNDP.

Rio said they have already explained it to COA, which was “satisfied” with their response.

“The [COA] was questioning why DICT transferred that amount to UNDP and why we did not do it ourselves. We explained that being a new department, we need the expertise of the UNDP… We were able to explain it [to COA],” he said.

“There was no action after our explanation to COA. There was no further action which usually takes the form of notice of suspension or further, a notice of disallowance. That was just a notice that we explained properly,” he added.

Rio then pointed out that DICT Secretary Gringo Honasan even inaugurated the program.

In 2018, the DICT and UNDP entered into a financing agreement aimed at rolling out free wi-fi sites at selected locations to benefit remote communities.

The DICT did not take part in the bidding and selection of UNDP’s suppliers and service providers.

In 2021, the House committee investigated the program following delays and setbacks in its implementation.

Following a series of hearings, the committee recommended that charges be filed against Rio, as the signatory to the DICT-UNDP partnership, for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees over the alleged irregularities in the implementation of the free internet program.

Rio left the DICT in 2020. Honasan took over the program.

“Congress started an investigation on the program around April of 2021, a year after I left DICT, because it was not rolling out as scheduled and other issues,” he said.

Rio was wondering why he was being blamed for the project’s implementation when he left DICT in 2020.

Nonetheless, Rio said he is ready to face the charges that will be filed against him.

“I’m just waiting for the formal charges and that’s where I will explain,” he said.