Blackpanda CEO sees opportunities in PH amid security threats
MANILA, Philippines – Four years ago, Gene Yu, a retired United States Army Special Forces officer or Green Beret, led an unsanctioned rescue of a Taiwanese woman who had been kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Malaysia and taken to a jungle base camp in the southern Philippines.
Yu just returned to the country on a different mission: review and tighten Resorts World Manila's security and safety protocols after the attack last June 2 that left 38 people dead, including the lone gunman.
Yu is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Blackpanda, a private security company based in Hong Kong. It specializes in crisis response, risk management, and security consulting.
Blackpanda currently has 5 large infrastructure clients in the Philippines. Its team members have served at the highest levels of military special operations units within the US, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
"I didn't really come to the Phillippines to target the local market. When I saw the need and read about what is happening across the country, I knew there is a niche to help local companies to adjust their security standards and leverage these to something that is acceptable in the international community," Yu told Rappler in an interview in Taguig City.
With the ongoing unrest in the southern Philippines as well as constant threats in malls, banks, and other establishments, Yu said he would categorize terrorism as still the main threat to the country, followed by cyberattacks.
"I would say the no. 1 threat to the country is still physical threat or terrorism. Cyberattacks come in as second only. This is different for more developed countries where [the] main threat is already cyberattacks. It could be the case for the Philippines in the next 3 to 5 years," he said.
Since May 23, government forces and terrorists have been clashing in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. The crisis has left nearly a thousand people dead, most of them terrorists.
"I would classify the Philippines as low to moderate risk right now. Moderate is already a risk. You should be aiming for low to no risk, like most developed countries," the former US Army Special Forces officer said.
In the past few months, the Philippine banking industry has also been hit by several security issues. In 2016, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) was slapped a record P1-billion fine for involvement in the $81-million Bangladesh Bank heist.
On June 7, numerous clients of Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) reported unauthorized transactions in their accounts for two days. The bank attributed the fiasco to an "internal data processing error."
Sense of complacency
"There is a sense of complacency in the Philippines, of accepting the current state of security. The Philippines is undergoing the longest standing insurgency in the world. That is not normal. So the reason why we get to the Philippines is I recognized there is a security need," Yu said.
"It has been hard to penetrate the market because of the large domestic private security industry, and attitude from the private sector that it is business as usual and it is acceptable," he added. (READ: 'Normal working day' for businesses amid martial law in Mindanao)
Yu said the cost of ignoring the need for more efficient security is pricier than preventing a breach from happening.
"For instance, a security breach will echo for months or years to consumers. Millions of consumers will live with the worry that it might not be safe to put their money in that bank or play in that casino anymore," Yu said.
Travellers International Hotel Group Incorporated, owner of Resorts World Manila, saw a net loss of P312.09 million in the 2nd quarter of 2017 after it suspended operations due to the attack.
Another example is listed Metrobank, which lost P14.63 billion in market value in a day, as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) launched an investigation into the alleged P900-million fraud case involving a senior bank official.
Shares in Metrobank plunged by 5.03% to P86.90 each last July 21, from P91.50. This happened the same day the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) presented Maria Victoria Lopez, vice president of the Corporate Service Unit at Metrobank's Makati head office, as the primary suspect in the case.
"For businesses in high-risk, high-growth marketplaces, they need security firms like Blackpanda to help facilitate and [enter] into these regions," Yu said.
"The ongoing unrest in Marawi really highlighted the need for optimized, effective security among Filipino businesses. It is time to take security seriously." – Rappler.com