Senate blocks funding for CCTV deal with Chinese firm

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Senate blocks funding for CCTV deal with Chinese firm
This undated file photo shows a CCTV camera. Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the Senate has included provisions in the 2019 national budget, through which multi-billion-peso Chinese and other foreign-funded projects unilaterally approved by the executive can be paid.
AFP / Leon Neal, File

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate has inserted provisions in the 2019 national budget that would block the payment for the Department of the Interior and Local Government's "Safe Philippines" project with a Chinese firm.

The P20-billion project involves the initial installment of 12,000 surveillance cameras in Metro Manila and Davao City.

The DILG signed the agreement with China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation (CITCC) in November 2018 during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto noted that the Chinese-offered Safe Philippines project lacked in studies, consultations and validation.

"We have asked for documents from the lead appraisal authority, the NEDA, and they cannot provide us any," Recto said.

The senator added that documentations for such projects are usually voluminous but the surveillance deal with the Chinese firm is thin and appears to have been rushed.

The first "block provision" for the deal in the Senate version of the 2019 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."

The second provision listed 13 foreign-asssited projects that may draw funding from the 2019 budget. The list excluded the Safe Philippines project.

Recto noted that foreign projects usually turn out as debt service instead of asking funds through the appropriations route.

As for the Safe Philippines project, P7.42 billion was already allotted for it in the 2019 budget, which Recto dubbed as mysterious.

"The mystery here is, as early as July, P7 billion has been parked. But the supply contract, it was approved November. They put the cart before the horse," Recto said.

The DILG was only able to transmit the budget cost for the project to the Department of Finance in September last year and the notice of award to CITCC was issued two months later.

Recto stressed that he was not opposed to information and communications technology-driven systems but he pointed out that there should be transparency in such transactions.

"What the Filipino people do not need is one whose evaluation and approval was hastily done, lacks transparency, no consultations, no independent appraisal, is a tied loan and a donor-driven expenditure," the senator said.

Earlier this week, the Senate and the House of Representatives convened to tackle their respective versions of the proposed P3.757-trillion budget.

The Congress is eyeing to approve the budget before session is adjourned on February 6 and have it signed by President Rodrigo Duterte by February 14.

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