DEFENSE Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana was kept in the dark about a deal that would allow a Chinese-linked telecommunication company to build towers inside Philippine military camps.
The government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte will cancel the agreement with Dito Telecommunity Corp. if it risks national security, presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said at a briefing yesterday.
“Certainly, if it involves national security then the government can do something about it,” he said. “I’m sure the Defense secretary and Hermogenes Esperon will be undertaking measures to respond to that concern,” he added, referring to Mr. Duterte’s national security adviser.
Mr. Lorenzana will investigate the memorandum of agreement between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Dito Telecommunity, Mr. Panelo said. “We will wait for his findings.”
Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan on Monday raised a “national security concern” over the agreement, noting that two Chinese laws require companies there to “cooperate in gathering of intelligence information by the state.”
Formerly Mislatel, Dito is a consortium of Davao businessman Dennis Uy’s Udenna Corp. and its unit Chelsea Logistics Corp., and state-owned China Telecommunications Corp., a parent company of China Telecom, the lawmaker said.
Mr. Pangilinan said the Duterte administration had laid the “red carpet” for Dito inside military camps. “This Chinese telco’s involvement in our military camps is no joke.”
GLOBE, SMART DEALS
The agreement is not yet final and needs to be approved by the Defense chief, Adel Tamano, chief administrative officer of Dito, said in a mobile phone message. “As a Filipino company, Dito Telecommunity will of course comply with all government requirements,” he added.
Mr. Tamano said the deal is similar to the ones the Armed Forces had signed with Globe Telecom Inc. and Smart Communications Inc. “We want to assure the public that Dito has a cybersecurity plan approved by the National Telecommunications Commission,” Mr. Tamano said. “The company will always protect the national and cybersecurity interests of the Philippines.”
“This partnership gives Mislatel a fair chance to compete with the other networks, given that the AFP also has similar partnership with Globe and Smart,” AFP Chief of Staff General Benjamin Madrigal Jr. said in a statement.
Under the deal, the military will determine specific locations that may be used without undermining the operations of its units, he said.
“Our MOA with other telcos significantly improved the ICT infrastructure of the AFP and we are optimistic that this opportunity will also bring great benefits to the Armed Forces,” Mr. Madrigal said.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rufino B. Biazon also defended the deal, saying Mr. Lorenzana probably had not been briefed about it because it was still at the level of the AFP chief of staff.
“There is no one who could be more jealous of security than the Armed Forces,” he said during plenary debates on the Defense department’s 2020 budget.
But Mr. Pangilinan said the installation of electronic communications inside Philippine military camps raises fears of electronic espionage and interference given the record of some Chinese companies in this illegal activity.
“This fear is especially acute given that China’s National Intelligence Law from 2017 requires Chinese companies to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work.”
Mr. Pangilinan said countries such as Australia, the United States, Japan and New Zealand have banned Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei due to security concerns. — Arjay L. Balinbin and V.A.C Ferreras