MANILA - Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Thursday expressed concern over the military's agreement with telecommunications firm Dito Telecommunity Corp. to build its infrastructure inside military bases, citing the involvement of a Chinese firm in the consortium.
In a statement, Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, said the development raised the specter of Chinese espionage in the Philippines.
"The planned installation of electronic communications inside our military camps raises fears of electronic espionage and interference given the record of some Chinese firms for engaging in this illegal activity," Pangilinan said.
"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'," he said.
He said the country's "security and foreign policies have become absurd," citing how defense chief had expressed alarm over the presence of offshore gaming firms near camps over possible espionage.
But when it came to the Chinese-linked telco, he said, the Philippine government "has laid the red carpet."
"Why build these telco towers inside camps in the first place? Are there no other available sites for their towers? How much are they paying the government for these? How can we be assured that there will be no breach of national security and respect for privacy of communications and correspondence?" Pangilinan said.
He continued: "Do we have guarantees that they will not obtain crucial information to the detriment of Filipinos? What happened to the cyber security audit of the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) and the NTC (National Telecommunications) on this third player?
In an agreement signed Wednesday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines would allow Dito, formerly Mislatel, to put its system, towers, and facilities in military bases across the country.
Dito, which government earlier confirmed as the country's third telecommunications player, is a consortium that includes China Telecom and Udenna Corporation led by businessman Dennis Uy. It is set to start commercial operations next year.
The AFP, meanwhile, eased concerns over the deal, saying telecoms firms Globe Telecom and PLDT Inc. already have facilities in military bases.
Pangilinan sought a copy of the pact.
The senator said the nation should be vigilant and protect the country's sovereignty.
He cited the country's unresolved disputes with China over the West Philippine Sea, where the latter has continued incursions despite a July 2016 international arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines.
"We should be vigilant and keep watch as our safety and security are at stake," he said.
"Atin ang Pilipinas - the land, the waters, and the air. Huwag natin i-surrender ito, kasama na ang naipanalong arbitral ruling para sa controlling stake sa joint exploration ng West Philippine Sea," he said.
(The Philippines is ours- the land, the waters, and the air. Let us not surrender this, along with the arbitral victory for a controlling stake in the joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea.)
The Philippine government last month agreed to joint oil and gas exploration with China in the resource-rich waters so long as Manila got the bigger share.