MANILA, Philippines — An assessment from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the move to allow Dito Telecommunity to put up its towers in military camps had warned authorities of the possibility of eavesdropping by the China-linked telecommunications firm, senators said yesterday.
Security concerns on the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Armed Forces and Dito Telecom signed last Sept. 11 were raised during deliberations on the proposed P191.34-billion budget of the Department of National Defense (DND) for 2020 at the Senate.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan asked DND and AFP officials during the deliberations on the status of the MOA and the safeguards the government will put to ensure security from spying.
He said a study conducted by the AFP stated that the military’s communication net that links all camps and installations was “susceptible to electronic eavesdropping and interception,” especially that equipment to intercept signals are cheap and practically commercially available.
“You can really intercept (signals). In other words, we recognize that risk but we are also putting in place safeguards,” Pangilinan said.
He said Dito, formerly known as Mislatel, has state-owned China Telecom as a major shareholder. Dito also uses equipment from Chinese firm Huawei, which has been banned by many countries, on espionage and other security concerns.
He said Huawei was also banned by Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the US.
“I strongly suggest that we err on the side of caution,” Pangilinan said when asked by reporters if he continues to oppose the MOA.
He reiterated that Chinese firms are required by Beijing to spy for their government based on two laws China passed in 2014 and 2017.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who was defending the DND budget, said he was told by officials that among the provisions in the MOA was that the AFP can unilaterally rescind the agreement whenever it thinks such a move is warranted.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also raised security concerns, saying Beijing seems to be trying to penetrate both the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
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