By Macon Araneta i FilAm Star Correspondent
Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima sought a Senate inquiry into the PHP 20-billion loan agreement with a Chinese telecommunications firm to fund the installation of an initial 12,000 closed-circuit television (CCTV) security cameras in public areas in Metro Manila and Davao City.
De Lima filed Senate Resolution No. 978 which urges the appropriate Senate committee to look into the loan deal between the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the China International Telecommunications and Construction Corp. (CITCC).
She said the Senate probe specifically seeks to find out if the CCTV security camera network project entered with a state-owned Chinese telecommunication firm would infringe on the constitutionally-guaranteed right of privacy of the Filipino public and the country’s national security.
“Public interest requires that inquiry be made as to the threats to the Philippines’ national security contracts entered into with foreign companies whose questionable track-record raises international concern,” she said.
“The right of the people to privacy necessitates that an inquiry be made into the information sought to be collected through surveillance using equipment sourced from these Chinese companies,” she added.
The PHP 20-billion loan agreement for the installation of an initial 12,000 CCTV security cameras in just 30 months was one of the 29 agreements signed during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping last Nov. 20.
These security cameras will be installed in crossings, roads, public plazas, business districts, science and technology parks, residential areas and stadiums, among others. The system includes a national command center to be located in Clark, Pampanga.
Under the contract entered between the DILG-CITCC, the Chinese multi-national telecommunication equipment and consumer electronics company Huawei will reportedly supply the equipment requirements of the multi-billion project.
De Lima, however, pointed out that at least five countries, such as Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and United States, have doubted the integrity of Huawei-provided technology as they cited serious national security concerns.
“Granting China, a country fast gaining international notoriety for its aggressive espionage activities, the opportunity to create a surveillance system in our country should raise a red flag for our policy-makers to ensure that none of our national interests are compromised by such agreements, particularly our national security,” she said.
For one, she said Australia is also preparing to ban Huawei from supplying equipment after its intelligence agencies raised concerns that Beijing could force the Chinese telco to hand over sensitive data.
She also cited the warning of US Intelligence agencies against the use of smartphones made by Huawei on the ground that the Chinese telco has the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information, and even to conduct undetected espionage.
“It is not a mere question of getting technological capability to enforce our laws but also of what we are giving up in exchange for this technology, notably giving a foreign government access to information from our country and our citizens,” De Lima said.
The former justice secretary explained that the Senate should determine the extent of these Chinese firms’ access to information relating to classified information, national security and defense, military and diplomatic secrets, and other confidential or sensitive matters.
“Any agreement that could compromise the rights of our citizens and our national security must first pass through strict scrutiny to ensure that it would not be violative of our Constitution,” she said.