Military chief defends deal with Chinese telco

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    ARMED Forces chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. yesterday said military intelligence and communications experts looked into the agreement with Dito Telecommunity Corp., which allows the Chinese firm to put up facilities inside military camps, before it was signed.

    “It passed through our intelligence, it passed through our legal and of course with our communications people,” Madrigal told defense reporters at the AFP general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

    “I’m recommending it for approval,” said Madrigal, adding he submitted the memorandum of agreement (MOA) to the Department of National Defense for the approval of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, shortly after it was signed on Wednesday last week by Maj. Gen. Adrian Sanchez Jr., AFP deputy chief of staff for communications, electronics, and information systems, and lawyer Adel Tamano, Dito chief administrative officer.

    The MOA came under scrutiny after several sectors, including lawmakers, raised the issue of national security risk and espionage.

    A resolution filed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros sought a Senate inquiry into the issue of whether the presence of a foreign firm’s facilities and equipment in Philippine military bases and installations “undermines national security.” It noted that the AFP Modernization Act requires that the sale, lease or joint development of military reservations be authorized by Congress.

    Lorenzana, who is due to return to the Philippines from an official visit abroad, said Monday he is going to scrutinize the agreement before it takes effect. He said he was not aware of the agreement before it was signed.

    Col. Noel Detoyato, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said the agreement “went through the process of verification and validation by our technical working group where the intelligence (community) is a member.”

    On potential security threats, Detoyato said military experts did not see any risk in proceeding with the agreement.

    Madrigal, asked about reports that Lorenzana was not informed about the agreement before it was signed, said, “I have to sign it first before it goes up to the SND (secretary of national defense).”

    Madrigal said it was never his intention to bypass Lorenzana: “I cannot do that. Every time I sign a MOA, I sign it first before the secretary signs it.”

    Madrigal said Dito passed through the National Telecommunications Commission before it was granted the status of a third major telco player.

    Madrigal said some quarters may be raising concern over the agreement because they are connecting it with other “incidents” with China. “We’re afraid of something that we don’t know, the fear of the unknown.”

    On reports that Chinese firms are required to gather intelligence for the Chinese government, Madrigal just said, “Remember, we are dealing with a Chinese company, not the Chinese government.”

    Dito Telecommunity Corp., formerly Mislatel, is a consortium of Davao businessman Dennis Uy’s Udenna Corp. and its subsidiary, Chelsea Logistics Corporation, and Chinese state-owned China Telecommunications Corp., a parent company of China Telecom.

    The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) assured the public that Dito is duty-bound to ensure that its system and networks would not compromise the country’s national security.

    DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr., a former commanding general of the AFP Communication, Electronics and Information System Service (AFPCEISS), said the said provision on national security was included in the terms of reference of the agreement with Dito on the advice of the Office of the National Security Adviser.

    Rio echoed the statement of military officials that the arrangement with Dito is not different from those with Globe Telecoms and Smart Communications.

    He added that barring Dito would also violate the anti-competitive laws.

    “It must be emphasized that the MOA between Dito and the AFP is similar in all aspects as those signed with Globe and Smart, in fact even more strict because it was included in the TOR by NSA that national security will never be compromised by their network,” he said.

    He said DICT “assures our people that the country’s national interests, including cybersecurity interests, are protected and secure from electronic threats and espionage.” – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Vince Nonato