MANILA, Philippines — The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) on Wednesday played down concerns that China had control over the country’s power grid and disputed claims that the Chinese could remotely access the company’s computer network.
In a statement on Wednesday, NGCP president and CEO Anthony Almeda said the company welcomed “senators and congressmen as well as an independent third party to visit our facilities in order to dispel any security concerns that had been raised these past few days.”
Almeda was reacting to reports coming from the Senate since last week that the national power transmission system could be shut down by the Chinese with just the “flick of a switch” because of the substantial stake of 40 percent in NGCP controlled by State Grid Corp. of China (SGCC).
SGCC allegedly operates a monitoring and control system of the Philippine power transmission system in Nanjing, China.
“There is nothing to be alarmed about the stake by (SGCC) in NGCP as its investment is limited only to being a technical adviser,” Almeda said.
NGCP—which operates, maintains and develops the country’s power grid—describes itself as a Filipino-led, privately owned company under majority shareholders Henry Sy Jr. and Robert Coyiuto Jr.
With its stake in the company, SGCC is entitled to three of its 10 board seats.
Almeda assured the public that the “management and the control of NGCP, including its systems operation, are exclusively exercised by Filipinos.”
The company also has more than 5,000 Filipino employees who are deployed to its various facilities across the country, he said.
Almeda stressed that the software and hardware system that controls the Philippine grid, or the supervisory control and data acquisition (Scada) system, was operated only by authorized Filipino technical experts.
“By default, Scada is disconnected from the virtual private network (VPN); thus, remote users cannot connect to Scada,” he said, adding that NGCP’s Systems Operation Datacenter was also equipped with biometric access controls.
Almeda said that even he as the company president could not get into NGCP’s internal network any time he wanted because access may only be granted to the CEO “in an emergency situation and only after undergoing a secure and confidential approval process.”
The approval for the VPN access has not been invoked and no remote access has been granted since the company started operating in 2009, he said.
Almeda issued the statement as Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate energy committee, warned that the government may revoke NGCP’s franchise to operate the grid if its control of the country’s power grid would compromise national security.
During a Senate budget hearing last week, Melvin Matibag, president of the government-owned National Transmission Corp. (Transco), which regulates NGCP, said the country’s power system could be remotely shut down.
“We welcome the private sector and foreign investments, but it’s important for us to ensure that these would not affect our national security because it’s the interest of every Filipino,” Gatchalian told reporters.
He said modern warfare “involves not just gunfight” but could also be waged “by switching off power all over the country.”
“So let’s look into this and ensure that we are protected,” Gatchalian said.
In a statement on Wednesday, former House member and Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares also urged Congress to revoke the franchise of Dito Telecommunity Corp., the country’s third telco because of China Telecom’s 40-percent stake in the company.
“Congress should not only focus on its investigation into China’s hold of our energy grid but also its threat of holding one of the most vital and sensitive sectors in the country, our telecommunications system,” he said.
It was “absurd” for the Philippines to cede control of its telecommunications system to a country like China, Colmenares said.
China and the Philippines have been entangled in a decadeslong dispute in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Mr. Duterte has opted to set aside Manila’s historic win in the international arbitral tribunal invalidating Beijing’s expansive claims over the strategic waterway in exchange for Chinese loans, aid and investments.
COMMAND AND CONTROL
Gatchalian noted that since NGCP had command of the power transmission, it could also control other utilities dependent on electricity, such as the country’s telecommunications system.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who raised the alarm over the possible sabotage of the grid, said senators needed to look into the possible “foreign access and control” of the country’s power infrastructure.
“Imagine if the circuit breaker of your own house can be accessed by another person remotely via the internet,” Hontiveros said in a radio interview on Wednesday.
She has filed a resolution calling for a security audit and legislative inquiry into the operations and facilities of NGCP.—WITH A REPORT FROM MELVIN GASCON