Budget qualifier scraps funding for Chinese video

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Budget qualifier scraps funding for Chinese video

Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) – February 11, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Congress has qualified through a provision that the unprogrammed funds in the P3.7-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2019 will not be used for Chinese and other foreign-funded projects that lack feasibility studies or have been unilaterally approved by the executive branch.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chairperson of the finance committee, read on the floor some of the amendments the Senate and the House of Representatives made to the GAB’s unprogrammed funds section shortly before the two chambers ratified the proposed budget on Friday night.

She said the qualifiers included “a provision prohibiting the use of unprogrammed funds for any project intended for public video surveillance and communication system that will involve risk in the country’s national security.”

Aside from this, she revealed that the “Support to Foreign Assisted Project” under the Unprogrammed Fund column was amended to limit its use only to projects specifically mentioned in the GAB.

While the prohibition was written in general terms, it apparently referred to the P20-billion “Safe Philippines Project” pushed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), to be funded by a loan from China.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto first raised the alarm over the video surveillance system project that will reportedly be rolled out by the state-owned China International Telecommunications Construction Corp. (CITCC).

The project requires the installation of a network of 12,000 security cameras – initially in Metro Manila and Davao – in 30 months at crossings, roads, public squares, business districts, science and technology parks, residential areas and stadiums, among others.

It also includes a national command center with a backup data center to be located in Clark. The system will have a facial and vehicle recognition software and will be linked to disaster response agencies in all regions once in place.

Funding for the project was secreted in the Unprogrammed Funds column in the proposed national budget submitted by Malacañang to Congress last year.

But Recto last month said the “vetting and approval” of the project has all the hallmarks of a behest transaction, “lacking in studies, consultations, validation.”

“We have asked for documents from the lead appraisal authority, the NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority), and they cannot provide us any,” Recto said. “It (study) is thin and rushed. Usually the documentation for a project of this size is voluminous. In this case, they practically gave us nothing.”

The senator said the alarming trend of the executive bloating the public debt by agreeing to donor-driven loans must be slowed down, more so, if the process lacks transparency.

“There are many salesmen and agents of foreign projects. So, instead of asking funds through the appropriations route, the funding will just be borrowed and the payment passed to Congress and taxpayers as part of the debt service that is automatically appropriated,” he said.

 He said he found it suspicious that some P7 billion initial funding for the project was parked in the budget since July but the supply contract with CITCC was approved only last November.