By Butch Fernandez, January 18 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Senate of the Philippines

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, citing the need to mitigate “potential risks” to national security and public interest, pressed for a Senate inquiry into the China-funded P20.3-billion video surveillance system proposed to be installed by the Duterte administration in Metro Manila and Davao.

In filing Senate Resolution 990, Recto asked the Senate to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the so-called Safe Philippines Project, “with the end in view of mitigating potential risks to national security or public interest arising from the foreign-assisted projects contracted by the Philippine government.”

This developed even as Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV did not rule out the possibility that the Senate may move to abort the multibillion-peso project bankrolled by China if it is shown to be disadvantageous to Philippine interests.

“That is possible,” Trillanes told the BusinessMirror.

The Recto resolution acknowledged that the video surveillance project was billed as a “seamless integration of emergency, crisis and disaster management system; law-enforcement system; traffic and fire management system; peace and order, and public safety management system that is shared among key government agencies that could provide swift, timely, accurate and life-saving interventions,” among others.

As earlier announced by its proponents, the Safe Philippines Project vowed to use available modern information and communications technology-driven subsystems and solutions in operating a video surveillance system linked via dedicated communications infrastructure that involves “an integrated operations and command center for National 911 Public Safety Answering Point” with 18 city-level command centers in Metro Manila and President Duterte’s Davao City bailiwick.

Initial implementation phase of the project, the Recto resolution noted, was estimated by its proponents to cost P20,313,920,000, to be funded and implemented through official development  assistance (ODA) from China.

It added that the Chinese Embassy on July 19, 2018, transmitted a “short list” of Chinese companies recommended by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce to carry out the project, including Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.-Huawei Technologies Phils. Inc. and China Electronics Technology Group Corp., China Machinery Engineering Corp. and China International Telecommunications Construction Corp. (CITCC).

The Recto resolution recalled that the Department of the Interior and Local Government had already transmitted to the Department of Finance last September 20, 2018, an approved budget cost for the Safe Philippines Project to “facilitate the loan application and negotiation” for the project, after which a Notice of Award was issued on November 16, 2018, in favor of CITCC and a supply contract was signed by the DILG and CITCC on November 19, 2018.

It noted that a portion of the implementation cost for the project was already appropriated under the Unprogrammed Appropriations in the National Expenditure Program for fiscal year 2019.

At the same time, Recto warned that the primary equipment supplier of the winning contractor for Phase 1 of the Safe Philippines Project, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd “has been increasingly embroiled in issues concerning national security and data protection.”

Moreover, the senator stressed that “the National Security Policy for 2017-2022 highlighted the need to safeguard the Philippine classified action plans and programs, government intentions, and State secrets from espionage and other hostile actions, and the need to shield the country from computer-generated attacks that could cause massive crises in our economy, banking and financial institutions, communications and other critical infrastructure.”