File photo shows Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Friday called on Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to void a recently inked deal allowing China-backed Dito Telecommunity Corp. to build cell towers in military camps.
“The secretary should rescind the deal as it compromises the security of our citizens and our country as whole, especially security of our data, which is the currency of this century,” Pangilinan said.
“Countries more technologically advanced have actually banned or reconsidered business deals with China’s largest telco and phone manufacturer Huawei Technologies just two months ago due to possible spying. That should have been an eye-opener for us,” he added.
The United States has repeatedly warned allies against using products of Huawei, which the Western superpower accused of espionage and stealing trade secrets.
These warning were made amid heightened US-China trade tensions and efforts by Washington to keep Huawei from obtaining contracts for 5G, or fifth-generation wireless networks. The Chinese government denies these allegations.
Pangilinan is the latest to oppose the military deal with Dito, with Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro) and Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, having raised their own objections as well.
The senator further warned that Chinese-owned firms “are obliged under Beijing laws to follow orders, like divert or intercept internet traffic, or access state secrets, when required.”
“We have serious doubts that we have in our possession the most modern technology and equipment to monitor cyber security threats. This is why we should void the contract,” the senator said in English and Filipino.
China Telecom Corporation owns 40% of Dito CME while Udenna Corporation and its subsidiary Chelsea Logistics and Infrastructure Holdings Corp. own 35% and 25%, respectively.
Both Udenna and Chelsea Logistics are owned by Filipino-Chinese businessman Dennis Uy, a friend of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Pangilinan also highlighted a petition started by Filipino citizens urging the Philippine Congress “to stop the entry of Dito Telecommunity into the Philippine telco industry until its risks to the country are thoroughly assessed.”
As of this writing, the Change.org petition has over 1,600 signatures.
Territorial disputes with China
“We have issues with China concerning the West Philippine Sea. We also have them at Benham Rise. They continue to desecrate our natural resources and forbid our fishermen from fishing in our territory,” Pangilinan added in Filipino, referring to the country’s territorial disputes with the regional superpower.
“”Pero ano ginagawa natin sa usaping ito? Parang meron tayong kapitbahay na nang-aangkin ng ating bakuran at papapasukin pa natin para magbantay ng bakuran natin,” he added.
(But what are we doing on this issue? It’s like we have a neighbor who is encroaching on our yard but we are still allowing him in to guard it.)
Pangilinan further emphasized that “Lorenzana and the rest of the military establishment are duty-bound to protect the country’s national [interest] and the Filipino citizens’ security, not compromise it with the deal.”
Security concerns previously raised by the military
“Among those who raised national security concerns earlier were Lorenzana himself and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.,” he further argued.
“Pointing to the proximity of POGO (Philippine offshore gaming operators) offices to military camps, Lorenzana late last year said these POGOs, which employ Chinese nationals, may shift their operations to spying,” the senator said.
Pangilinan also recalled remarks made by Esperon wherein he called the influx of hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens in the country a national security threat.
Despite this, the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday downplayed the possibility of a security breach, calling it a “very low” risk.
Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesman, told CNN Philippines’ “The Source” that Lorenzana signed the deal because he was satisfied by the measures instituted by the military “to ensure that national security will be protected.”
“It’s a low threat in terms of the raised concerns about spying, concerns about listening devices or eavesdropping. We have studied that,” he added in a mix of English and Filipino.