Senate blocks funds for China CCTV project
The Senate has added provisions to its version of the P3.8-trillion proposed national budget for 2019 that would block payment for a China-funded public surveillance project of the Duterte administration that has raised security concerns.
The P20-billion Safe Philippines project involves installing security cameras in public places in Metro Manila and Davao City and monitoring them from a central command center.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto was the first to sound the alarm last year, citing security risks to the Philippines and an apparent lack of study.
Huawei as supplier
Recto noted that the Philippines’ partner, China International Telecommunication Construction Corp., tapped Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. as an equipment supplier, despite spreading fear that the Chinese government was using Huawei to spy on other countries.
The Japanese and Taiwanese governments have already excluded Huawei from their technology purchases and the governments of the United States, Australia and New Zealand have raised concerns about security risks to public and private information posed by China through Huawei.
Huawei, the world’s second-largest smartphone maker that is fast becoming a global force in telecommunications development, has denied it is working for the Chinese government and vowed never to allow Beijing access to its infrastructure.
On Wednesday, Recto said one provision in the unprogrammed fund section of the 2019 budget bill would disallow the use of funds for “any project intended for public video surveillance and communication system with suppliers or service providers that are considered serious risks to national security or interest or are involved in cases regarding information leakage, computer or network hacking, and other forms of cyberespionage, whether in the Philippines or in other countries.”
Another provision lists the foreign-assisted projects that could draw from authorized appropriations for 2019, and the Safe Philippines project is not among them, Recto said.
He said the vetting and approval of the project appeared to be a behest transaction, as it was “lacking in studies, consultations, validation.”
Recto said the National Economic and Development Authority could not provide him with any documents about the project.
“It’s flimsy and appears to be rushed. Usually, the documentation for a project of this size is voluminous. In this case, they could hardly give us any,” he said in a statement.
The senator also said the Duterte administration needed to slow down on donor-driven loans, especially if these lacked transparency, as this was bloating the public debt.
In the case of the Safe Philippines project, Recto said P7.42 billion was allocated for it in the 2019 budget proposal.
The funds were parked as early as July last year, four months before the supply contract was approved in November, he said.
It was only on Sept. 20 last year that the Department of the Interior and Local Government was able to transmit the approved budget cost for the project to the Department of Finance, he added.
Careful study needed
According to Recto, there is merit to the idea of an emergency response system that is anchored on information and communications technology, as Filipinos could benefit from it. But such a project must be backed by a careful study, he said.
“What the Filipino people do not need is one whose evaluation and approval was hastily done, lacks transparency, no consultations, no independent appraisal, is a tied loan and a donor-driven expenditure,” he said.
Recto earlier sought a Senate inquiry into the Safe Philippines project, citing other countries’ concerns about Huawei.
He said the Philippines needed to safeguard classified action plans, programs and state secrets from espionage, and to protect itself from computer-generated attacks that could cause massive crises in the economy and in financial institutions./ac
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.