MANILA - Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday downplayed fears anew that national security would be compromised once China-backed telecommunications player DITO Telecommunity puts up facilities in its military camps.
In a Senate budget hearing, Lorenzana said that the possibility of Beijing spying on Manila through the DITO facilities was unlikely, and that espionage fears over the presence of Chinese workers in the offshore gambling industry was a much bigger concern.
“In the POGOs, there are people there in the area, several hundreds of them. In the towers, I don’t see any Chinese going there to man the towers,” Lorenzana told Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon who raised several questions on the matter.
“How are they going to listen if it’s just a transmitter that will transmit the signal from one cell site to another?”
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 concerns over possible Chinese espionage, highlighting the level of distrust of Filipinos against the Chinese despite Manila and Beijing’s rapprochement under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Drilon underscored the sensitivity of the deal since DITO Telecommunity is backed by the Chinese government.
The deal, if approved by the defense department, would allow DITO to put up its facilities in some 130 sites where major telecommunications players Globe and PLDT are also present.
“Yes they will be located in areas where Globe and Smart are located, but that means mister secretary that the Chinese government will have 130 listening posts inside our camps,” Drilon told Lorenzana.
Upon Drilon’s prodding, Lorenzana said the memorandum of agreement between DITO and the Armed Forces can still be amended. He said he would decide whether to approve the deal or not in a week’s time.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, however, requested for the deferment of the approval of the agreement.
“I also manifested my desire for the sub-committee on finance chaired by Sen. [Panfilo] Lacson to consider a separate hearing in executive session should it be warranted to discuss the national security repercussions of the DITO-AFP MOA,” Pangilinan said.
Lacson, for his part, said the government must demand compensation from the telcos for their use of government land.
DITO Telecommunity chief administrative officer Adel Tamano earlier said the third telco is a Filipino company and was legally granted a franchise to operate even if the consortium includes China Telecom.
The consortium formerly known as Mislatel received its license to operate in July and is expected to begin commercial operations by 2020.