MANILA, Philippines – Senators have sounded the alarm over a China-funded surveillance system project of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), citing its potential "security threat" to the country.
The DILG has partnered with a China Telecom affiliate and Huawei for the Safe Philippines Project, a 12,000-camera surveillance system for the supposed “efficient management of public order, security and safety” in the country.
Huawei will supply equipment while China International Telecommunication and Construction Corporation (CITCC) will undertake the P20-billion project. CITCC is an affiliate of state-owned China Telecom, one of the firms in Mislatel Consortium soon to become the country’s third telecommunication player.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto first raised the security risks of the project during budget deliberations on Monday, December 10
“Based on sources, I am told that the equipment to be used here is also Huawei which appears to be banned in many countries around the world because of hacking and so on and so forth. Would there not be a security threat if we allow China Telecom to be part of a surveillance system of the DILG and the PNP [Philippine National Police]?” Recto said.
The project was one of the 29 agreements signed between the Philippines and China during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in November. According to the senator, the signatories of the commercial contract were Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and the chair of the Chinese company.
Here are the details of Phase I of the Safe Philippines Project, according to Senate finance committee chairperson Loren Legarda:
Prior to the Senate budget deliberations, a high-ranking Huawei official shared some initial information about the project in a business forum held in Manila. He said the company wants to install modern cameras all around the country to ensure the safety of Filipinos.
"Huawei wants to know what you like to eat, where you want to go, to secure your safety," the official said. (READ: China uses 'gait recognition' technology to identify people)
Legarda said it was one of the foreign-assisted projects signed between the Philippines and China in November. But Recto questioned the allocation of budget and said the Senate should first review the deal.
“That is correct. And now we are providing a possible appropriation, and that is my problem here. So, could the Senate be provided all information coming from NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority] and DILG of this project?” Recto said.
When Legarda told Recto that Huawei also has contracts with Globe Telecom and Smart, Recto said those are different because they are private deals.
“Yes, that is a private undertaking, Mr President. In fact, now is the time to discuss these issues as well, moving forward. Here we are, discussing, I mean not in the budget deliberations, but the possibility of giving China Telecom third telco status,” Recto said.
“They will be part of the Safe Philippines with Huawei They are blacklisted in many countries at least as supplier. Now, in effect, if we approve the budget and no one questions this, we are, in effect, appropriating money for this purpose. And that is my concern,” he added.
Senator Richard Gordon shared the same sentiment during the DILG budget deliberations on Thursday, December 13.
“I share the concern of the gentleman and all of us here, that we have to get the correct equipment, but we should not sell the crown jewels of the country. Delikado baka malaman lahat ng ginagawa natin ng ibang bansa (It's dangerous, other countries might know everything that's happening here),” Gordon said.
Recto also questioned DILG officials for submitting insufficient information and data. He asked for copies of feasibility studies and said he got information that these were supposedly done by potential suppliers. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org