THE Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is seeking an additional budget of P5.6 billion, and going without it “would affect our operations significantly,” its chief said.
Senators initially sounded cool to the idea, noting the agency’s low utilization rate, but signaled they could change their mind as they acknowledged the serious concern about rising cybercrime and the DICT’s central role in fighting it. In fact, the security aspects of DICT’s work was so concerning that senators repaired to an executive session at 2:30 pm after the budget hearing.
During the Senate Finance subcommittee hearing on the budget in the morning, DICT Secretary Ivan Uy said the additional funding will help maintain some of the operations of the department.
ICT Undersecretary Heherson M. Asiddao explained that the additional budget will comprise the following: P747 million for general administration and support services, P3.22 billion for e-government initiatives, and P1.64 billion for cybersecurity, national ICT plans, policies, and standards, and the ICT industry development.
The department, under the National Expenditure Program (NEP), was only allotted a total of P8.73 billion.
Uy signaled that this is not enough to fund the department’s programs.
“We’re seeking consideration on our request for additional funding that would affect our operations significantly if not provided. If granted, this will allow the DICT to sustain or even just maintain some of the services that the DICT provides in its operations,” he told Senators.
Low utilization rate
However, Senator Grace Poe questioned the request, citing the low budget utilization rate of the department.
Currently, the department has a 2023 budget utilization rate of 25 percent.
“Here’s the problem, your utilization rate is too low, and yet you’re asking for additional budget. You’re trying to tell this panel that by the end of this year, you will have been able to utilize about 70 percent of your budget, but right now, we’re already at the ‘ber’ months—how will you be able to do that?” she said.
Asiddao noted that the department has already obligated P3.5 billion of its P13.9-billion 2023 budget and is “already in active procurement” of the remaining items on its budget, with “some already awarded.”
Focus on cybercrime
Despite their concern with the low utilization rate, senators said they were inclined to support DICT on the assurance it will use its fund well to fight the rising threat of cybercrime.
Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda asked officials of Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) what the country needs to do to take the Philippines out of the list of most attacked countries by web threats.
Legarda expressed alarm over the recent Kaspersky Security Network online security report that the Philippines moved two places up in the rankings in 2022, just behind Mongolia.
“Are they attacking us economically in terms of military security or other dimensions?” Legarda asked, adding: “You know that, of course.You are taking this seriously and you are doing all those efforts that you’re doing. What should we do to take us out of this [list]?”
The senator then requested for an executive session on the matter.
At the same time, Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito promptly affirmed support to increase the budget of DICT to improve its capability in going after cyber criminals.
Ejercito aired willingness to support the agency’s request for confidential funds to combat hackers and online scammers, who have become the “bigger enemy” of Filipinos.