MANILA - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) allayed fears that national security would be compromised once China-backed telecommunications player DITO Telecommunity puts up facilities in its military camps.
"We looked at their proposal, it passed through our cognizance staff, including legal to ensure that the document and papers are in order," said AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo.
DITO, a consortium of Dennis Uy's Udenna Corp. and Chelsea Logistics with state-owned China Telecom, recently signed a deal with the Philippine military to build facilities inside military camps.
The deal has drawn concern over possible Chinese espionage.
According to China’s National Intelligence Law, which came into effect July 2017, organizations and citizens are ordered to support, assist and cooperate with national intelligence efforts. State institutions tasked with enforcing the NIL "may also demand that relevant organs, organizations and citizens provide necessary support, assistance and cooperation."
A New York Times editorial stated: "Spying for the state is a duty of the citizens and corporations of China under the law, much like paying taxes."
Arevalo, however, said DITO has yet to install anything in military camps.
"We have made sure that the necessary safeguards are there and we saw that to be in order. They have not put up anything yet. If they are going to do that, before they can build up the facility and if the facilities are already there standing and they have to maintain it and they have to do that every time, they have to be accompanied and escorted by military personnel. The connections are not in any way physical, there will be no connection except hosting or co-location," he said.
He added that the agreement signed between the AFP and DITO is the same with those they've extended to two other telco players.
"This is no different from the privilege that was given to Globe and Smart. They have their facilities also within our camps," he pointed out.
Arevalo stressed that one of the mandates of the AFP is to protect critical infrastructures and key facilities, including telecommunication facilities.
"The Armed Forces of the Philippines is just as concerned when it comes to security. The inherent predisposition of the AFP is toward security," he said.
DITO Telecommunity, formerly known as Mislatel, received its license to operate in July and is expected to begin commercial operations by 2020.
The AFP spokesperson also defended Chief of Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal who is set to retire on Sept. 24. He said Madrigal did not approve the deal but only signed and endorsed it to the secretary of National Defense.
"The final and approving authority will be the secretary of National Defense so I don't think General Madrigal committed any wrong," he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is out of the country on official business and will return to Manila on Sept. 20.
He earlier said he has yet to approve the deal with DITO Telecommunity.
Director Arsenio Andolong, spokesperson of the Department of National Defense, said the Defense Department has concerns over the agreement, consistent with public concerns over national security and cybersecurity.
“Nothing unusual, just that when somebody puts something up inside camp, we have to look into this always,” said Andolong. “As with any proponent or entity that wishes to put up any infra inside camp, we have a concern always.”