COA urged to review DND's cybersecurity funds
Photo shows Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
Office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros/Released
COA urged to review DND's cybersecurity funds
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - October 20, 2020 - 10:43am

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday called on the Commission on Audit to inspect the Department of National Defense's spending on cybersecurity for 2020, given its P500 million budget request for the same category for 2021. 

"It is not clear where the cybersecurity fund goes. It is not clear where the public coffers are being used. I flagged this amount because we want specifics. We want to make sure DND is spending the P500M wisely,"  Hontiveros said in English and Filipino. She originally flagged the same fund on October 12, as defense officials faced a Senate panel deliberating on the DND's 2021 budget. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told senators that the allocations for cybersecurity are classified under the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Fund. "We have 500 million pesos to improve our cybersecurity capability, which is set in our Modernization Fund for 2020. And another 500 million for 2021," he said in Filipino without further elaborating on the specific items related to cybersecurity spending. 

RELATED: AFP chief: Around P480 billion needed in next 18 years for modernization

In a statement released October 14, Hontiveros said the defense department's request for hundreds of millions in funds to combat cyberthreats is undermined by a controversial agreement between the military and a China firm-backed telco player which many perceive to be a threat to vital Philippine data. She was referring to a recently-inked deal between the AFP and Dito Telecommunity Corp which allows the company to build cell towers inside military camps.

"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," Hontiveros said Monday. 

"And in the matter of cybersecurity, what is the priority of the DND? Is it 'internal' threat again rather than 'external'?" she questioned partially in Filipino. 

'China-backed groups, one of the biggest cybersecurity threats'

"China is clearly trying to gather data that could compromise the Philippine Navy, our first line of defense in the West Philippine Sea. DND's cybersecurity budget should be alloted to fight China's ongoing aggression if we really want to protect our sovereignty," Hontiveros said in Filipino and English. 

Emphasizing the cybersecurity threats posed by China-backed groups, the senator cited reports from last May which uncovered that a hacking group linked to the Chinese People's Liberation Army "targeted the Philippines' government agencies and government-owned companies in its mission to gather 'geo-political intelligence.'" 

This was first reported by Isareli cybersecurity firm Check Point which said the China-based hacker group, known as Naikon, was carrying out a five-year cyberespionage campaign against Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Brunei. 

"In April 2019, a Chinese cyber espionage group known as APT10 reportedly targeted government and private organizations in the Philippines," Hontiveros added. This was first uncovered by enSilo, a data protection platform. 

The senator further cited a report from the Analytics Association of the Philippines which "found Chinese-related scripts inserted in the source codes of government websites, including the Philippine Navy's website."

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