Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday, January 23, said the upper chamber has proposed to block the payment for the China-funded Safe Philippines, a surveillance system project of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
In the Senate version of the 2019 national budget bill, Recto said they included “block payment” provisions that named only one project — the “Safe Philippines Project.”
This project aims to install 12,000 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Metro Manila and Davao City for a “more efficient management of public order, security, and safety” in the Philippines.
Huawei Technologies Co, Ltd will supply the cameras to be used for it, while China International Telecommunication and Construction Corporation (CITCC) will shoulder the P20-billion project.
Recto, however, said the project shows signs of a “behest” transaction, “lacking in studies, consultations, [and] validation.”
The senator said he already asked the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the lead appraisal authority, for documents but the latter was not able to give him anything.
“Manipis na, minadali pa (It is not only poorly documented but it was also rushed). Usually, the documentation for a project of this size is voluminous. In this case, halos walang maibigay (they almost could not give anything),” Recto said.
Recto added that he wants to “slow down” the executive’s “alarming trend” of bloating the public’s debt by agreeing to loans.
Addressing this matter, the Senate inserted two provisions which will guide the release of funds for overseas development aid as well as other foreign-funded activities.
The first provision under the Unprogrammed Fund section of the national budget states that, “No amount appropriated herein shall be utilized for any project intended for public video surveillance and communication system with suppliers or service providers that are considered as serious risks to national security or interest or are involved in cases regarding information leakage, computer or network hacking, and other forms of cyber espionage, whether in the Philippines or in other countries.”
Meanwhile, the other provision enumerates 13 foreign-assisted projects which may draw from authorized appropriations for fiscal year 2019. The Safe Philippines project, however, was not included in the list.
Recto noted that a total of P7.42-billion was included in the 2019 national budget for the Safe Philippines Project since July when the project was only awarded on November 16 and the supply contract was signed three days after.
“They put the cart before the horse,” he said.
The senator earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 990 asking the appropriate Senate Committee to conduct an investigation into the Safe Philippines project “with the end in view of mitigating the potential risks to national security or public interest arising from foreign-assisted projects contracted by the Philippine Government.”
He also expressed concern over the Chinese firms “allegedly involved in espionage and hacking activities.”
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, however, had assured Filipino people that the government will install “necessary firewalls” to prevent hacking and other threats.