Sen. Francis Pangilinan, citing a pending risk analysis review, prodded the Department of National Defense (DND) on Monday to defer action on a proposed agreement between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Dito Telecommunity, the third telco proponent poised to install private telecommunication towers inside military camps.
In a news statement, Pangilinan pointed out that “a risk analysis that will say that the technology is safe and secure is essential so that we have a better sense of how prepared we are for the technology should we allow telco towers to be set up in our military camps.”
The senator aired his concern at the hearing on the budget of the DND, citing potential risks to national security.
He noted that Dito Telecommunity, formerly Mislatel, is known to be a consortium of Davao businessman Dennis Uy’s Udenna Corp. and its subsidiary Chelsea Logistics Corp., and Chinese state-owned China Telecommunications Corp., listed as the parent company of China Telecom.
The still wary Pangilinan added that an assurance from Dito Telecommunity such installations will not be involved in intelligence gathering inside the AFP camps that will host the foreign-owned telco towers and will not compromise Philippine national security is “not enough.”
Addressing Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the senator said: “You and I, Secretary, will agree that is not enough. And that we have to have even a party independent from the Armed Forces going through its own cyber-security risk assessment.”
Pangilinan asserted that “an independent entity should have undertaken the same. And that’s why I’d like to see the memorandum of agreement [MOA] as well.”
The senator told Lorenzana the premature public announcement of the MOA signing was found to be “a bit odd.”
“I just find that a bit odd that there was a public statement of the MOA signing, when, in fact, the secretary had yet to go through and scrutinize the contract,” Pangilinan said. “But I hope there was no attempt at forcing the hand of Secretary Lorenzana to approve…because it had already been reported in the media and publicly announced as a done deal.”
Pangilinan added: “It looked like it was a done deal—at least, perception-wise, Mr. Secretary. But we’re thankful that, on record, Secretary Lorenzana has said that he is still reviewing this and that he has the power to approve or disapprove the said MOA.”
At the same time, the senator recalled Interior Secretary Eduardo Año admitting discomfort with regard to a similar project proposed by China International Telecommunications and Construction Corp.—an affiliate of state-owned China Telecom.
Pangilinan recalled that in the DILG case, the proposed surveillance system seeks to install 12,000 CCTV cameras to be provided by Huawei. “It was Secretary [Eduardo] Año who said for example that there were some provisions that he was concerned about in case of a dispute in the said contract, citing, for instance, a provision that said Hong Kong would be where a dispute should be settled—or at least arbitration proceedings in Hong Kong. He found that objectionable,” the senator added..