Eliseo Rio resigns as DICT undersecretary amid internal issues

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Eliseo Rio, Jr., who led the government's search for a third telecommunications provider, says he has resigned as undersecretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology due to internal issues with agency officials. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 3) — Eliseo Rio, Jr., who led the government's search for a third telecommunications provider, has resigned as undersecretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

"I filed my resignation and awaiting acceptance of the President," Rio told CNN Philippines on Monday, explaining that his letter was sent to Malacañang last Friday, January 31.

Rio, an engineer who is currently Undersecretary for Operations in the agency, served as acting secretary of the DICT and led the bidding process for the third slot as mobile communications provider in 2018 — one of the campaign promises of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Rio said he left his post due to some conflicting views with other officials in the agency. Among the points of contention were the millions of pesos in confidential funds lodged with the agency, and apparent friction with new appointees.

"'Yung situation sa DICT, I cannot work with the undersecretaries at assistant secretaries eh. They are not involving me. I’m supposed to be Undersecretary of Operations, but they are not involving me in decisions," Rio said in a phone interview. "'Yung operations and intelligence, very close 'yan so whatever intel, involved talaga ang operations. I might as well get out, sayang ang sweldo para sa akin."

[Translation: Operations and intelligence work are very close, so whatever intel we get, operations must be involved. I might as well get out, the salary being given to me would be a waste.]

DICT was created by a law signed by then President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III in May 2016 as the main agency that will craft and promote the national development agenda on telecommunications and information technology, taking the function away from the older Department of Transportation and Communications.

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Rio also questioned the need for a ₱400 million confidential fund for the agency in 2019 — an amount which Secretary Gringo Honasan put in the DICT's budget when he was still a senator, he said.

CNN Philippines has reached out to Honasan for comment.

DICT also received ₱803 million in "confidential, intelligence and extraordinary expenses" under this year's national budget, data from the Department of Budget and Management showed.

"I just said as far as I'm concerned, DICT does not need any confidential funds. Wala sa mandate namin to conduct surveillance and intelligence activities... I would rather have it given to the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and the police," Rio said.

Under his watch, Rio rolled out the competitive bidding process to break the duopoly of the Pangilinan-led Smart Telecommunications and the Ayala-owned Globe Telecom.

Rio, a retired Army general, was reassigned as undersecretary in July 2019 when Honasan was appointed as DICT chief. Rio served as commissioner of the National Telecommunications Commission from 2001 to 2002 and later on joined Globe subsidiary Bayan Telecommunications (BayanTel) as board member.

On July 8, 2019, DICT officials turned over the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity to businessman Dennis Uy's Mislatel Cosortium — now called DITO Telecommunity — as the third major player. DITO is set to roll out its services by July this year.

READ: Honasan floats idea of PH gov't-run telco

Rio said he's still reporting to work as he has not received word if the President has accepted his resignation. He added that he informed Honasan about his plan, saying that the DICT secretary "respects" his decision. "In effect, he (Honasan) is made to choose between me and 'yung kanyang (tao). I'll remove that burden from you," Rio said about why he left.

Citing his age, Rio said it may be best to leave the agency to the younger and newer officials appointed by the President.

Pending action on his resignation, Rio said he will continue working on projects like the free public wifi, common towers, and fiber optic cables to boost the telecommunications infrastructure in the Philippines.

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