Hontiveros to COA: Audit DND’s cybersecurity funds, no item related to cybersecurity articulated in P500M proposal

Senator Risa Hontiveros urges the Commission on Audit to review the Department of Defense’s (DND) 2020 spending on cybersecurity in light of the agency’s proposed P500-million fund for the same category in 2021.

“Hindi talaga maliwanag kung saan napupunta ang cybersecurity fund. Hindi maliwanag kung saan nga ba ginagamit ang kaban ng bayan. I flagged this amount because we want specifics. We want to make sure DND is spending the P500M 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:

“Meron po bang fund para sa cybersecurity laban sa ikinakatakot na panghihimasok ng Tsina sa pamamagitan ng Dito towers sa loob mismo ng ating mga camps? Are these funds in the budget and where are they (itemized)?” the senator asked.

For his part, Sec. Delfin Lorenzana said that they classified cybersecurity measures under the AFP Modernization Fund.

In the proposal, a provision of P5 billion is alotted for the AFP Modernization Fund under the Unprogrammed Fund: “Meron po tayong 500 million pesos to improve our cybersecurity capability, na nakalagay sa ating Modernization Fund ng 2020. And another 500 million for 2021,” Lorenzana admitted, but did not elaborate on specific items 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. At sa usapin ng cybersecurity, ano ang prayoridad ng DND? ‘Internal’ threat nanaman ba kesa ‘external’?” she said, adding 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.”

“Sa gitna ng pandemya, walang preno ang Tsina sa paninira sa ating karagatan. Kaya hindi na rin nakakagulat na walang preno din ang panghihimasok nila sa ating cyberspaces,” the senator said.

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. Dapat nakalaan ang cybersecurity budget ng DND sa paglaban sa patuloy na pananalakay ng Tsina kung tunay na gusto nating protektahan ang ating soberanya,” Hontiveros concluded.