The need to audit the NGCP’s system operations

The NARI Platform as a proprietary system, designed for patent protection and security measures, can only be operated by NARI Certified Engineers, who are, of course, Chinese nationals.

As a follow-up to our 13 November topic titled “NGCP playing the victim card again”, I want to discuss further the issue of the control of the System Operation of the national transmission grid and why the National Government must take back control for reasons of national and public interests.

Since 2017, I have been very vocal about the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines’ control of the SO and its implications on national security. Under its legislative franchise, NGCP is designated as the System Operator of the country’s national grid. As the System Operator, NGCP ultimately controls the flow of power in all parts of the country.

Likewise, NGCP, unlike any other public utility entity, is given wide-ranging authority affecting electric power industry participants all over the country. NGCP also holds inherent control and access to Data Transmission Grid- the Fiber Optic Network embedded in the Grid itself.

One of the first projects of NGCP, when it took over the grid operations in 2009, was to replace the still functional System Operator’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA and the Energy Management System and change them with the Chinese brand “NARI”. The sole supplier is NARI Group Corporation, a Chinese government-owned enterprise, and the largest set supplier of electric equipment in China. What was reported to us then by retired engineers of the National Transmission Corporation or TransCo was the operations manual of NARI is written in Chinese and the level of competence of Filipino engineers is limited to the use of the equipment.

Before the takeover of NGCP, there were 140 TransCo substations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Each substation had its devices (bay controllers, distance relays, over-current relays, RTUs, Substation Monitoring, etc.) supplied by several manufacturers. This was in lieu of the philosophy of using different brands between levels of control centers in the hierarchy to reduce reliance on a single vendor or supplier. Today, NGCP replaced all these substation equipment and devices with NARI and NR ELECTRIC manufactured equipment. The Philippines is a captured market for NARI Products.

In its more than a decade of operations, NGCP has totally replaced all hardware equipment, servers, routers, switches, consoles, communication devices, multiplexers, interfaces, and auxiliary power supplies in three Regional Control Centers in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, and several Area Control Centers.

In 2014, additional Advanced Applications were added by NARI to the three SCADA/EMS Systems in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. In 2015, The Area Control Centers in Luzon (LA Trinidad, Mexico, Binan and Bicol) were also replaced with NARI System. These include Operating System software, application software programs, and test equipment. These items are all proprietary and NGCP is tied to source all spare parts from NARI Group Corporation.

In 2019, we brought up the likelihood of the whole grid being remotely accessed by NARI from its headquarters in Nanjing, China, and its obvious consequences and implications on national security.

We also raised the preparedness of NGCP for cybersecurity threats since it allocated zero budget in the Transmission Development Plan of 2016-2020 for SCADA Enhancement (Cybersecurity).

The Committee on Energy, then headed by Senator Win Gatchalian, initiated an inquiry based on several Senate resolutions. Unfortunately, the hearings were interrupted by the pandemic and the 18th Congress ended with the hearings with the issues never concluded.

Relative to the issue, Cynthia Alabanza, head of NGCP Public Relations, in one of her press releases, asserted that “There is no proverbial Wile E. Coyote Acme red button that you can press to shut down the grid. You have to call at the very least, 200 substation managers and have them shut off several breakers in each of these substations one by one. It is not one button and it is not remote, it has to be done manually.”

From our research in TransCo, the whole architecture of NARI, based on its own technical literature, is connected via WEB BASED system that connects via internet gateways. There is no way to connect the system to multiple locations such as RCCs and ICCs without the common internet gateway. And the NARI Platform as a proprietary system, designed for patent protection and security measures, can only be operated by NARI Certified Engineers, who are, of course, Chinese nationals. These are logical inferences from information derived from NGCP and NARI’s website itself.

These assertions by the NGCP are the primary reasons why we wanted an honest-to-goodness System Operations Audit supervised by the Joint Congressional Energy Commission since SO Control is a legislative grant. The assertion of NGCP that its Operation Network and the SCADA is a stand-alone system and is disconnected from the VPN and its Corporate Network and the internet should be carefully examined through the SO audit.

We cannot rely on mere say-so or self-serving declarations of NGCP concerning our national security.

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