By William Casis

Sen. Risa Hontiveros on October 19 urged the Commission on Audit to review the Department of Defense’s (DND) 2020 spending on cybersecurity in light of the agency’s proposed PHP500 million fund for the same category in 2021. 

“It’s not clear where the cybersecurity fund go. I flagged this amount because we want specifics. We want to make sure DND is spending the PHP500M wisely,” Hontiveros said.

At DND’s budget hearing, the Senator tried to clarify the figures according to the document the agency submitted to the Senate Committee of National Defense

She inquired if there are cybersecurity  funds against China’s interference through Dito towers inside their camps. “ Are these funds in the budget and where are they (itemized)?” the Senator asked.

For his part, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana said that they classified cybersecurity measures under the AFP Modernization Fund. In the proposal, a provision of PHP5 billion is allotted for the AFP Modernization Fund under the Unprogrammed Fund.

“There’s PHP500 million to improve our cybersecurity capability in the Modernization Fund in 2020. And another PHP500 million for 2021,” Lorenzana admitted but did not mention any specific item related to cybersecurity spending.

Earlier, Hontiveros flagged DND’s budget proposal amid the recent business deals between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and China-owned DITO Telecommunity Corporation. 

“What we need to see from the DND is a robust cybersecurity roadmap that does assure us that our Armed Forces is more than ready for inevitable cyberthreats,” she said.

She added  that one of the country’s biggest cybersecurity threats is the persistent interception efforts of China-backed groups. 

In May this year, at the height of the global pandemic, a hacking group believed to be part of a unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army targeted the Philippines’ government agencies and government-owned companies in its mission to gather “geo-political intelligence.” 

Additionally, Hontiveros said that in April 2019, a Chinese cyber espionage group known as APT10 reportedly targeted government and private organizations in the Philippines. 

That same month, the Analytics Association of the Philippines also found Chinese-related scripts inserted in the source codes of government websites, including the Philippine Navy’s website. 

“China is clearly trying to gather data that could compromise the Philippine Navy, our first line of defense in the West Philippine Sea.”

She emphasized if the government indeed wanted to protect the country’s sovereignty, the DND cybersecurity budget should be allocated for fighting the continuous invasion of China.