Not too fast. The Senate halts the funds earmarked for China backed public surveillance project of the Duterte administration because of some security issues and supplier integrity.
In the amended provisions to its version of the P3.8-trillion proposed national budget for 2019, the P20-billion was originally earmarked for Safe Philippines project involving the installation of security cameras in public places in Metro Manila and Davao City which will be monitored through a central command center.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto who was the first to raise the red flag as early as last year, worrying about the high security risks to the Philippines and an no proper study on the said security and safety project.
Recto also pointed out that China International Telecommunication Construction Corp., Philippines’ preferred partner tapped Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to be the equipment supplier, despite spreading fear that the Chinese government was using Huawei to spy on other countries.
Even the Japanese and Taiwanese governments have already banned Huawei from their technology purchases and the governments of the United States, Australia and New Zealand because of the security risks to public and private information posed by China through Huawei.
While Huawei is the world’s second-largest smartphone maker that is dominating the market now and also in the telecommunications development, it has been dragged in the issue of espionage in other countries by conniving with the Chinese government. But they denied the accusation and assured that they will never to allow Beijing access to its infrastructure.
However, Recto also noted 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.”
Then on 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 also expressed his concern that, “the project seems to be a whimsical transaction that lacks proper studies, consultations, and validation.”
Meanwhile, Recto is also alarmed why 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 cautioned Duterte administration to slow down on donor-driven loans, especially if these lacked transparency, as this was bloating the public debt.
Recto pointed out that 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.