Duterte wants third telco player 'up and about' by early 2018

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 19 2017 01:50 PM | Updated as of Dec 19 2017 04:25 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte wants a third telecommunications firm to be running within the first three months of 2018 in a bid to immediately improve service in the country, his spokesperson said Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the President has directed the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to ensure that the new industry player would be "up and about" by the first quarter of next year.

The agencies were also tasked to "approve all applications and licenses within 7 days only upon complete submission of requirements; and if it is not approved within 7 days, it is deemed approved."

"That's how serious the President is on the entry of a third telecoms player," he told reporters.

"It is being rushed because we need desperately to have better telecoms in this country," he said in a press briefing.

The Chinese government has selected China Telecoms to invest in the Philippines. The Palace said the entry of a third player would boost ties with China and challenge the longstanding duopoly in the country's telecoms industry.

DICT officer-in-charge Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, as quoted by Roque, said he and NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba could have the third player "operational by early March 2018 to compete with the duopoly."

The President also said he does not want the courts to "interfere and prolong this process."

"Do not issue any TROs (temporary restraining orders) or injunctions. This is a matter of national interest for the benefit of the public," the President said, as quoted by Roque.

Roque earlier said the President "offered" China to become the third telecommunications operator in the Philippines during a meeting in Malacañang with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on November 15.

In Tuesday's briefing, Roque said restrictions provided in the Constitution about a foreign entity entering the local market would have to be observed.

While China Telecoms will own 40 percent of the provider, a consortium of Filipino companies must own the remaining 60 percent of the new firm, he said.

Roque also said the DICT gave the assurance that "they will absolutely be transparent in the bidding process."

The Palace official also allayed fears of a security breach in the entry of the foreign player.

In a statement, detained Sen. Leila de Lima expressed concern that China's entry into the country's telecommunications industry may compromise security, indirectly referring to the unresolved South China Sea dispute. 

China has been stepping up militarization in the disputed waters while the Philippines has been pursuing improved trade ties with the Chinese despite the issue. 

"What will assure us that in the future, our national security and whole intelligence and defense systems won’t be compromised, if not under the complete control of a foreign government with national interests diametrically opposed to our own? Do we really want a country who has most interest in undermining our national security to have a major role in our public utilities, especially communications?" she said in a statement. 

But Roque said: "It's not as if foreigners don't have access right now."

"The minority share owners of our providers are also foreign, so there's always a foreign partner involved," he said, referring to the country's telecoms providers whose problematic reception and slow internet service often draw complaints. 

Roque added that it is the priority of the administration to improve the country's cybersecurity and that policymakers would surely "have built-in security measures to protect us." - with Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News