February 3, 2020 / 12:17 PM / 22 days ago

Philippines steps up security to shield power grid from foreign control

MANILA, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The Philippines is beefing up security protocols to protect its energy sector from foreign interference, its national security adviser said, following concerns raised by some of the country’s politicians about China’s access to the country’s power grid.

China’s State Grid Corporation owns a 40% share in a consortium called the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, which in 2008 won a 25-year-franchise.

“Allegations that the National Grid can easily be controlled by foreign entities are being taken seriously by the government,” National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said in a Feb. 2 statement on Monday.

Esperon’s statement, which did not name any foreign entity in particular, comes as the Philippine senate started an investigation into China’s access to country’s power grid.

Senator Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution late last year calling for the probe, warning of Chinese-engineered power and internet outages and interference in elections if safeguards remained absent.

Beijing and U.S. ally Manila have a long history of mistrust, despite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s pursuit of warmer ties with China.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment. There are no publicly known instances in the Philippines, or government accusations, of Chinese interference in its utilities.

Esperon said a cyber-security audit team, which includes officials from the National Security Council and the country’s armed forces, looked at various sites around the country and recommended that periodic cyber-security assessments be done to “ensure that our power grids are safe from foreign manipulation”.

Concern about China’s involvement in the power grid was first raised in November during the energy department’s 2020 budget hearing in the Senate.

“The administration is taking steps and precautionary measures to guarantee that the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, its facilities and infrastructure are protected with the highest security procedures,” Esperon said.

Reporting by Karen Lema. Editing by Jane Merriman

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