Alarm raised over Chinese video surveillance project
A state-run Chinese company affiliated with China Telecom, one of the firms in the consortium poised to become the country’s third telco player, has been tapped for a P20-billion project that would install a “video surveillance system” using 12,000 closed-circuit television cameras in Metro Manila and Davao City, according to Sen. Ralph Recto.
During plenary debates on the 2019 national budget on Wednesday, Recto raised concerns over a “security threat” the project could pose.
The Senate President Pro Tempore drew attention to the equipment supplier Huawei, a Chinese firm that has been blacklisted in several countries for hacking and spying.
Access to big data
Recto warned that the project might compromise the local telco infrastructure since the contractor, China International Telecommunication Construction Corp. (CITCC), was an affiliate of China Telecommunications Corp., a partner of Mislatel Consortium, which recently won rights to be the next major telco service provider in the country.
“China will have access on surveillance, PNP (Philippine National Police) database, [and other] big data on Filipinos and we will be paying for it. Crazy,” the senator said in a text message.
The planned surveillance system, to be set up under the first phase of the “Safe Philippines Project,” was one of the 29 agreements signed between the Philippines and China during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping last month.
The signatories of the “commercial contract,” according to Recto, were Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and the chair of the Chinese firm.
For crime reduction
Addressing questions from Recto, Sen. Loren Legarda, who was defending the budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), said the project was aimed at improving the DILG’s capacity for “collaborative and efficient management of public order, security and safety, through the use of available modern information and communications technology.”
“It aims to reduce crime by 15 percent and improve response time by 25 percent. It entails the construction of an integrated operations and command center for the National 911 Public Safety answering point for the PNP, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology,” she said.
“It also has video surveillance system linked via a dedicated communications infrastructure,” Legarda added.
She said the Chinese loan for the project would amount to P20 billion. Later, however, she pegged the amount at $337 million or roughly P17.7 billion.
Legarda, who also chairs the Senate finance committee, initially said the contract for the project was still up for negotiation but later disclosed that it had been signed.
“Is that a perfected agreement already, since it is a commercial contract signed?” Recto asked.
“It is just a contract but not yet signed. It is for negotiation, Mr. President,” Legarda replied.
“But is it not that when the Chinese President came over; they signed a commercial contract for this?” Recto said. “It is part of the 2019 contract signed.”
“The contract agreement for Safe Philippines was signed, Mr. President,” Legarda said.
Asked whether CITCC was the same as China Telecom, Legarda said “we are not certain if that is the same company.”
Call for review
According to the CITCC website, it is “affiliated to China Communications Services Corporation Limited under China Telecom.”
During his interpellation, Recto said that according to his sources, the supplier for the project would be Huawei, “which appears to be banned in many countries around the world because of hacking and so on and so forth.”
“Would there not be a security threat if we allow China Telecom to be part of a surveillance system of the DILG and the PNP?” he asked.
“Now, in effect, if we approve the budget and no one questions this, we are in effect appropriating money for this purpose. And that is my concern. Maybe the Senate should review this project first before we agree on appropriation, at least for this particular project,” he said.
Legarda then directed the National Economic and Development Authority to provide all the documents connected to the project. She also invited Recto to express his objections as an amendment.
“Anyway, (the) bicameral conference will take until next year, perhaps, so we can easily strike it out if the gentleman would not agree,” she said.
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