De Lima wants Senate probe into China-funded surveillance project

Mara Cepeda
Senator Leila de Lima says the Safe Philippines project is an opportunity for China to spy on Filipinos

WARNING VS CHINA. Senator Leila de Lima wants lawmakers to investigate the Safe Philippines project backed by China. File photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima wants the Senate to investigate the China-backed Safe Philippines project, which will install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in select cities in Metro Manila and Davao City. 

On Sunday, January 5, De Lima said the project is an opportunity for China to conduct espionage operations in the country. She already filed Senate Resolution No. 275 on December 16, 2019, to formally call for a Senate inquiry on the Safe Philippines project.

“Granting a country whose global reputation for its forceful espionage activities has raised worldwide concern, the opportunity to create a surveillance system in our country should raise a red flag for our policymakers to ensure that none of our national interests are compromised by such agreements, particularly our national security,” De Lima in a dispatch she sent from her jail cell in Camp Crame.

“Commercial contracts with companies whose international operations have put at risk the right of the people to privacy [entail] careful scrutiny and utmost diligence in order to prevent abuses and violation of rights,” she added. 

Under the Safe Philippines project, high-definition and advanced CCTV cameras will be used to help curb crime and improve emergency response time in participating cities. These include the cities of Quezon, Marikina, Parañaque, Pasig, San Juan, Valenzuela, and Davao. 

China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation is the project contractor which will provide equipment along with Huawei.

Physical construction of the Safe Philippines project will begin early this year and is aimed to be completed by late 2021 or early 2022.

Senators, however, have already raised red flags over the China-funded surveillance project in the past, citing its potential “security threat” in the Philippines.

In January 2018, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also filed a resolution to probe the surveillance system project, citing hacking and espionage allegations against Huawei. (READ: Why is Huawei controversial?)

On Sunday, De Lima said Filipinos’ right to privacy requires a Senate inquiry into how information will be collected by the Chinese firms behind the project. 

“The matter of improving the country’s technological capability in the enforcement of laws must be put on a scale to strike a balance between gaining technological competence and yielding access to information from our country and our citizens,” the senator said. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.