Due to security concerns, Senator JV Ejercito said it is likely that the Senate would remove the funding for the P20-billion surveillance and monitoring project of the Department of the Interior and Local Government with a Chinese firm.
Ejercito, finance committee vice chairman and defending the DILG budget, warned this would happen if concerned government agencies will fail to satisfactorily justify the project.
“Some senators will introduce amendments. If not satisfied with documents and information submitted, there’s a big chance that it will be taken out because of national security issues,” he said.
The DILG, together with China International Telecommunication Construction Corp., an affiliate of China Telecom, will implement the surveillance and monitoring project.
Upon the request of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Finance committee chairman Loren Legarda, asked the National Economic and Development Authority to submit documents pertinent to the Safe Philippines project which aims to install 12,000 closed circuit television cameras in Metro Manila and Davao City.
During the budget deliberations, Recto said the contract was signed by DILG Secretary Eduardo Año and the chairman of China Telecom, a partner of Mislatel which could be the country’s third telco.
He raised alarm over the project as, according to his sources, the equipment to be used would be provided by Huawei, which appears to be banned in many countries due to hacking allegations.
“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?” he added.
“Here we are, discussing the possibility of giving China Telecom third telcom status. They will be part of the Safe Philippines with Huawei. They are blacklisted in many countries at least as supplier,” he said.
In a press statement Thursday, the DILG said the Safe Philippines emergency response and monitoring system is not primarily for surveillance but an integrated system to improve police response time as well as to deter and reduce crime.
Año said the project will level up the 911 emergency system of the DILG-PNP and will be used to improve public safety, evidence collection in the event of criminal activities, incident prevention measures for disaster-related mitigation and response, and police and fire emergency response in addressing traffic and criminal incidents.
“A similar system is in place in many cities in the world especially in large metropolitan cities like Metro Manila. It's about time we have a similar system in our country” the DILG chief said in a news release.
“Under this project, we can reduce crime by 15 percent and improve response time by 25 percent,” he said.
Año also clarified that while the Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. was one of the three bidders of the project, it did not win the bid.
He said Huawei and CMEC were disqualified from the bid because they did not meet the standards and specifications of the Special Bids and Awards Committee. Only CITCC met the requirements.
On Nov. 19, the DILG signed the USD396.8-million contract with the winning bidder China International Telecommunication Construction Corp. for the construction and installation of monitoring systems in Metro Manila and Davao City.
Under phase 1 of the Safe Philippines Project, DILG will provide 18 local government units (LGUs) in Metro Manila and Davao City with integrated operations and command centers and a remote back-up data center.
Año said all cities in Metro Manila and Davao City will have their own command centers to be located at the PNP city headquarters.
Meanwhile, a national command center will be constructed in Metro Manila, while its remote back-up data center will be placed in the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga.
Metro Manila was identified as the pilot city for the project due to its dense population. Davao City, on the other hand, was chosen to complement the monitoring system already in place in the city.
The DILG Secretary assured the public that they will take necessary measures such as installing protocols and standard operating procedures to protect the data stored in the CCTV system.
"The DILG will install the necessary firewalls to protect the system from hackers and other threats. This will be installed by the DILG and funded by our government," he said.
“The public also doesn’t have to worry about data breaches in the project as there will be no storage of classified data or information inimical to national security in the CCTV system,” Año said.
“The project will simply allow our police to respond to criminal activities, address disasters and traffic issues, and apprehend suspects in the event of threats to public order, safety, and security,” he added.
The PNP has been wanting to build a similar system since the previous administration, but it never took off because of the high cost, he added.
The DILG prepared the feasibility study of the National Safe Cities Project, which was submitted to the National Economic and Development Authority in December 2016 for approval.
The name was changed to the Safe Philippines Project together with the submission of the final feasibility study to NEDA, which was approved in January 2018.
The Safe Philippines Phase I Project is a joint project between the governments of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China to ensure the effective and efficient management of public order, safety and security.
“People living in Metro Manila and Davao City will feel a lot more safer walking the streets at night knowing that this system is in place," Año said.
“This will further empower local government units and our police to be more responsive and proactive in addressing crime-related incidents,” the DILG chief said.