Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the Senate panel investigating the government’s deal with Chinese-linked consortium Dito Telecommunity Corporation to look at possible risks of espionage amid the country’s maritime dispute with China.
In filing Senate Resolution (SR) No. 146, De Lima asked the Senate panel to look into the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Dito Telecommunity which allows the consortium to install telecommunication facilities and equipment within the country’s military camps.
“The fears that China may use those facilities to siphon information appear not unfounded. Electronic espionage and interference are very possible given that the Philippines and China are in the middle of a maritime dispute,” she said.
“As between the opportunity to raise the standard of telecommunication and the obligation to uphold our national security, the latter shall always reign paramount,” she added.
Last Sept. 11, the AFP reportedly signed the deal with Dito Telecommunity Corporation, which grants the Chinese-linked firm permit to put its system, towers, and facilities within the country’s military bases.
Dito Telecommunity Corporation, tapped to be the country’s third telecommunications player, is composed of China-owned and operated China Telecom and two Filipino-owned companies, to wit: Udena Corporation and Chelsea Logistics Corporation, both led by Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy.
While she agreed that the set-up ostensibly respects the constitutional limit for foreign investment and capitalization, De Lima is alarmed that “the China Telecom has acquired a bigger share compared to the individual stakes of each of the Filipino corporations.”
Dito Telecommunity has given Udenna Corporation and Chelsea Logistics Corporation 35 percent and 25 percent control of the venture, respectively. China Telecom secured the remaining 40 percent.
De Lima explained the MOA is alarming because it stipulates that China Telecom shall “build and deploy network infrastructure, manage technical requirements, develop business plans for roll-out, and evaluate and adjust telco performance” in the country.
“Such role, experts say, may later prove to be detrimental to the Philippines’ national security, as the agreement will give China Telecom not only the major control over our telecommunication data, but also dangerously, an unhampered access to our military camps where the infrastructure will be built,” she said.
It may be recalled that AFP Chief of Staff Benjamin Madrigal Jr. himself recognized the issue of the country’s vulnerability to attacks and other possible national security implications of the MOA.
De Lima, a former justice secretary, also warned against the adverse international media reports on the activities of China Telecom linking it to Internet espionage.
“It was claimed that China Telecom has been hijacking and diverting to China the internet traffic to and from some government websites that are owned and managed by the governments of USA and Canada, without the consent and against the interest of these North American countries,” she said.
The lady Senator from Bicol maintained that the ongoing Senate probe on the government’s deal with Dito Telecommunity should also determine whether the arrangements with the consortium pose real or imminent dangers to the vital interests of the country.
“The right of the people to information on matters of public concern, as enshrined in Article III, Section 7 of the Constitution, and the primordial interest of protecting national security and Philippine sovereignty demand [the need for this investigation],” she said.