Military-Chinese telco deal to undergo scrutiny: Lorenzana

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    DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said the controversial agreement between the Armed Forces and a Chinese telecommunications firm will have to pass through his office before it can take effect.

    Lorenzana made the statement as Sen. Francis Pangilinan raised anew national security concerns from the memorandum of agreement (MOA) that will allow the Dito Telecommunity Corp. firm to put up towers and other communication facilities in military camps.

    He said Chinese laws require Chinese firms to “cooperate in gathering of intelligence information by the state.”

    Dito Telecommunity Corp. is the country’s third telecommunications player.

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

    Lorenzana, who is on official visit abroad since last week, said he was not aware of the MOA signed last week by military and Dito representatives at the AFP general headquarters on Wednesday last week.

    Lorenzana said he has made initial inquiries from the AFP chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr about the agreement.

    “When I inquired, the CSAFP (Chief of Staff, AFP) said the MOA is going to my office for my approval,” he said. “So now I am aware of it and I will scrutinize it carefully before giving my approval. I’ll be back in Manila on the 20th.”

    AFP public affairs chief Col. Noel Detoyato said there is nothing wrong with the agreement, noting areas being made available to Dito are now used by the two major telco players — Globe and Smart.

    He said the military is open to backing out of the agreement “if it will compromise national security.”

    However, Detoyato said the military has deemed the agreement with Dito will not compromise national security, noting that the firm will only be putting up “relay stations” in military camps.

    On whether the copy of the agreement will be made public, Detoyato said, “We will have to consult with our legal officers.” He said Dito will also have to be consulted.

    Pangilinan last week said the agreement can be used by China for electronic espionage.

    Yesterday, he said the MOA poses a “national security concern” because of two Chinese laws — Counter-Espionage Law of 2014 and the National Intelligence Law of 2017 — which he said compel the cooperation of Chinese citizens and companies in the state’s intelligence-gathering activities.

    “China Telecom is… a Chinese company. What if the Chinese government says, ‘O, meron kayong access diyan (you have access there). You are mandated to turn over information to us because we have the Counter-Espionage Law and we have the National Intelligence Law,’” Pangilinan said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

    Pangilinan said Dito could be used to eavesdrop on conversations, meetings, information concerning troop movement, and even national security briefings.

    Pangilinan compared the MOA to the national security concerns raised by Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., regarding the location of POGO (Philippine offshore gaming operators) hubs near military camps.

    He also cited the ban on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei by the governments of Australia, United States, Japan, and New Zealand due to security concerns.

    Pangilinan said he would raise the issue during the upcoming hearings on the budgets of the Armed Forces and the defense department. – With Vince Nonato