THE PALACE on Monday asked the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to cancel its contract with a Hong Kong-based satellite company tapped to implement the P1.3-billion free WiFi project, alleging the slow progress made in the rollout.

In 2017, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Republic Act No. 10929, which authorized the DICT to partner with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to provide free internet access to the public.

In a televised public briefing, the President’s spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said the government was unhappy with the poor performance of SpeedCast International Ltd., noting that only about 10,000 of the 120,000 targeted free wireless internet sites have been completed.

Tapatan lang po, mula noon hanggang ngayon eh talagang medyo nakakabahala po ang bagal nang pag-implement nitong libreng WiFi (To be honest, the slowness of the implementation from the time the project was approved has been concerning),” Mr. Roque said.

Siyempre po, hindi tayo happy. Ang pangako natin, libreng WiFi sa lahat. Dapat magkaroon pa rin ‘yan ng katuparan sa administrasyon ni President Duterte, and we have one year to go (We are not happy because the government promised free WiFi, which it was counting on by the time President Duterte’s term ends,” he added.

In a letter to Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II last week, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero said Speedcast had undervalued six of its shipments “with the assistance of the local customs broker it contracted.”

Mr. Guerrero asked the DICT to direct the UNDP to take significant action against “any foreign entity” involved in the project “which is found to have violated Philippine laws.”

Iyan po ay iimbestigahan na ng DICT (That will be investigated by the DICT),” Mr. Roque said, referring to corruption allegations against the company. He added that officials found to have been involved will face corresponding penalties.

Ang posisyon po talaga ng Presidente at DICT ay itigil na ang involvement nitong current contractor na foreign… at ibalik na ang pera na naibayad na sa kanila dahil pupuwede na pong ipagpatuloy ‘yan ng DICT (The President’s position is to halt the involvement of the foreign contractor and to seek the return of the money, because the DICT can take on the project from here).”

Mr. Roque noted that the DICT was able to establish WiFi in five times more sites than the contractor did from 2015 to 2019.

Citing its “recent performance,” Mr. Roque said the government is confident that the DICT will be able to establish more sites or reach its target before the President’s term expires in 2022. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza