Solons back DICT’s bid to increase 2021 budget

Lawmakers expressed their support and called on fellow representatives to increase the allocated budget for the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) ICT infrastructure programs to fast track digital transformation during and beyond the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Last September 15, 2020, the DICT presented to members of the House of Representatives (HoR) its proposed budget for 2021. Discussed in the hearing was the need to increase funding for the National Broadband Program (NBP).

The NBP is the blueprint towards building a government-owned network that will provide faster, more affordable and more extensive Internet connectivity in the country. 

Representative Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. of the Second District of Camarines Sur emphasized the need for reliable Internet connectivity during the new normal, especially for the education sector. He stressed the importance of the NBP to improve the quality of Internet services in the country.

“Ang problema ng kabataan ngayon dahil sa new normal na pag-aaral, kailangan na ng Internet. Kung nakikita niyo sa TV, mga batang umaakyat sa puno para makakuha ng connectivity… We laud the efforts of the DICT under the leadership of Sec. Honasan in expanding the National Broadband. But, napansin ko po kasi na while maganda po ang plano, nakita kong sobrang kulang ng pondo,” Villafuerte said.

“So, I was analyzing kung magkano to fund the backbone dun sa presentation—eighteen (18) billion ang kailangan. At nakakalungkot, ang napondo lang sa 2021 budget is only 902 million… I will push and I will ask the support of the members of the congress na kung pwede natin mapondohan either 17 or yung half of the amount para phase one, phase two. Kasi kailangan talaga ‘yan ngayong panahon na ‘to. This is what you call digital infrastructure,” he added.

South Cotabato Second District Representative Ferdinand Hernandez and Iloilo City Representative Julienne Baronda echoed the sentiments of Representative Villafuerte. In addition, Hernandez also highlighted the need to restore the funding for the Free Internet Access in Public Places and State Universities and Colleges Program.

“I’ve been in full support of the increase of the budget. Napakaimportate po ngayon sa panahon ng pandemic dahil hindi po nakakapag- face to face karamihan, lalo na sa education. Napakalaking bagay po yung nawalang 17 billion (for NBP) at iyong for public schools (Free Wi-Fi),” Hernandez explained.

I hope soon we can connect the farthest town, especially kailangan na natin ngayong panahon ng pagbalik ng eskwela,” Baronda said. “Hopefully we will realize the connect-connect-connect program of DICT.”

On the same note, Marikina Second District Representative Stella Luz Quimbo expressed her disappointment in the current budget allocated for the National Broadband Program, explaining how important Internet connectivity during this new normal.

“Ikinalungkot ko po na ang na-approve na budget for the National Broadband Program ay only 902 million (PhP), whereas ang nirequest niyo po ay 18 billion (Php)… And nakakalungkot kasi, alam naman po natin na halos lahat po ng bansa sa buong mundo ay ang coping mechanism dito sa pandemya ay gamit po ang Internet,” she said.

“Ang tingin ko kasi kapag nadiskaril ang NBP, ang isang epekto po diyan ay hindi po natin mapapababa ng mabilis ang cost of Internet,” she added.

Likewise, Surigao del Norte Representative Francisco Jose Matugas II emphasized the savings that government will incur in Internet subscription expenses by fully implementing the program.

“Sa simple pong cost-benefit analysis, ang hinihingi po ng ating DICT agency is 17.3 billion na ilalagay na budget para ma-realize natin ang National Broadband Program next year. With the 10 billion amount being spent by our national government and LGUs every year (Internet subscription expense), since 2016 umabot na po ng halos 50 billion ang perang lumalabas sa gobyerno. Tapos, itong budget for National Broadband Program is 17.3—Isama na ang budget ng Free Wi-Fi na 3 billion—so 20 billion,” he explained. “Dapat po suportahan natin itong pag-allocate at pagpalaki ng budget ng DICT, especially on National Broadband Program being a foundational project, and the Free Wi-Fi for All.”

Meanwhile, Laguna First District Representative Danilo Ramon Fernandez underscored the importance of cybersecurity as part of digitalization.

I believe we need to upgrade based doon sa mga sinasabi po na mga solution, yung kanilang tinatawag na data gathering. Kasi importanteng-importante po ‘yan. Kaya ngayon po ay panahon na po talaga ng digitalization. At kung di po natin ma-upgrade ang cybercrime unit ng DICT, I believe that we are going into oblivion. Kasi ang krimen ginagawa na rin, hindi natin nalalaman yung mga organized crimes diyan kino-commit at hindi natin namomonitor dahil wala pala kayong kapabilidad. We need to upgrade for the start of the digitalization of the cybercrime unit of the DICT,” he explained.

Bulacan First District Representative Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado also expressed his support for the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) to suppress and prevent cybercrime in the country.  

“Ang chairman ng komite, at iniisip natin na ang buong komite na ito, ay sumusuporta sa pagkakaroon ng magandang Cybercrime Investigation Division ng ating Departamento, lalong-lalo na ng DICT. Yung mga kababayan po natin na mahihirap ay nae-exploit po diyan sa mga cybercrime na yan dahil sa liit ng porsyento na ating napaparusahan,” he stated.

The DICT has proposed a budget of around 46.6 billion pesos for fiscal year (FY) 2021. This is to effectively implement the Department’s strategic programs towards digital transformation in the new normal, including particularly improvements in national ICT infrastructure and the department’s cybersecurity capabilities.

DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan, on the other hand, said he is grateful for the support of lawmakers in the effective and efficient implementation of its programs, projects and initiatives for digitalization.

“We would like to extend our warmest thanks to our honorable members of the House of Representatives who have expressed their support for our Department. All these efforts are directed towards our children and the succeeding generations. It is their future that we are securing with this endeavor to bring connectivity to the next level. After all, our children are, and will always be, the greatest and most strategic resource that we can pour our investments into,” he said.

“A future that is promising, full of hope and opportunities, a future led by an efficient and transparent government, a future where ICT is ubiquitous, a future that is digital—this is what we owe our children. That is why we do the work and invest today in connectivity infrastructure, in digitizing our systems, and in improving our capacity to fully utilize technology as a people.”