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Changing of the guards at DICT

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By Emmie V. Abadilla

Ex- senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan assumed the helm of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) the other day (July 2, 2019), with former DICT Acting Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr., who has held the post for the past two years, now serving as his Undersecretary for Operations.

DICT logo

Honasan took his oath as DICT Secretary before President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday this week, July 1, over a year after the latter signed his appointment papers on May 20, 2018 but he still needs to undergo Committee on Appointments confirmation.

On his first day in office, the new DICT Secretary maintained “it’s time to build info-structure” rather than infrastructure, He pledged to link remote areas of the archipelago via internet and “render classrooms obsolete” by using technology.

He proposed giving cheap tablets to students and having “the most competent teacher” beam their lectures to them in barangay halls doubling as learning centers in order to solve the backlog of over 100,000 classrooms.

Malacanang expects Honasan to lead the industry in “exciting times” inasmuch as the country’s third major telecommunication player will become operational under his term and the national fiber optic cable network will be rolled out.

“The entry of Secretary Honasan is what DICT really needs,” according to Rio, citing the former’s good management skills and more than 40 years of public service. “My weakness is management. I am always concentrated on technical matters. This is what is lacking right now.”

Secretary Honasan graduated with an economics degree from the University of the Philippines and has a master’s degree in business management from the Asian Institute of Management.

He was a member of the Philippine Military Academy class of 1981 and received a number of awards as a soldier, including the Presidential Commendation Medal for Government Service by then President Corazon Aquino although he joined uprisings which sought to overthrow her later and only gained amnesty in 1992 under President Fidel V. Ramos.

Overall, he was a lawmaker for 21 years, elected senator in 1995, re-elected in 2001, 2007 and in 2013. Then he ran for vice president in 2016 but lost. Before that, he was a military officer for 16 years and a military renegade for seven.

However, critics question his appointment because the Philippine Constitution bars a person from benefiting directly from an office created while he was a member of Congress. The former Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) was split into two agencies in 2015, creating the DICT and the Department of Transportation (DOTr), when Honasan was a senator.

Furthermore, critics maintain that Honasan is not qualified to head the DICT.

They cited Section 11 of the DICT Act stating that no person shall be appointed secretary,  undersecretary or assistant secretary of the agency unless he or she has at least seven years of competence and expertise in information and communications technology, information technology service management, information security management, cybersecurity, data privacy, e-commerce or human development in the information communication technology sector.

The first two heads of the DICT fitted this qualification. The first, Atty. Rodolfo A. Salalima, was a member of the National ICT Advisory Council, former president of the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications Operators, former board director of the Telecoms Infrastructure Corporation of the Philippines and former Senior Vice President of Globe Telecommunications Inc. His successor, Rio, was an electronics and communications engineer, aside from being former military general.

Secretary Honasan’s Senate profile did not mention any background in ICT. Nevertheless, his fellow lawmakers cited he has over 10 years experience in military intelligence and that qualifies him to be DICT Secretary.

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