By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The entry of a third telecommunications player in the Philippines should not compromise the national security, especially should it be of a foreign country.
This was the sentiment shared by government officials at the inquiry of the Senate committee on public services Monday on the impending entry of the third player in the telecommunications industry.
Sen. Grace Poe, committee chairwoman, raised concern over the national security as she noted the government allowing foreign investors in the selection of a third telco player.
But Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. assured addressing such as he admitted sharing the same concern.
“We are very, very concerned on the national security, our cybersecurity because our country is experiencing so many cyber-attacks,” Rio told the Senate panel.
He recalled that the DICT had to ask for assurance from telecommunications giant Globe Telecom when it chose a Chinese network company as one of its contractors amid the territorial dispute on the West Philippine Sea two years ago.
“We alerted the national security adviser to call Globe and ask them on their assurance that the Huawei network will not be used against national security. Globe was able to come up with an answer. They came up with a cybersecurity audit that they will do themselves. In fact, they contracted an Israeli firm to do this for them, and the report of this cybersecurity audit, the government will be given a copy,” he narrated.
Rio said they would apply such a measure on the winning third telecommunications player.
“In the terms of reference itself, there is a provision that whoever will win must assure the government of the Philippines that it will not be a national security threat. And that assurance would come with some demonstration of their network,” Rio said.
The DICT chief told the panel that they are “on track” in choosing a third telco player to serve the public.
He said a “provisional” third telco player will be announced on November 7, in light of a pending case filed by a prospective bidder against the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) regarding the terms of reference that imposed securities and bonds on the bidders.
Eight companies have participated in the selection process, three of which are foreign.
They are China Telecommunications Corp., Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (PT&T), NOW Telecom Inc., Telenor Asa Group, Udenna Corp. (Converge ICT), LCS Group of Companies and TierOne Communications, Mobitel Holding GmBH and an undisclosed bidder.
But Poe decided to postpone the inquiry for further briefing from the country’s security officials, particularly, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is a member of the oversight committee on the entry of the third telco player.
“Ang pipiliin nilang kumpanya ay dapat malinaw na malinaw na makapasa doon sa security evaluation natin. Dapat masigurado na kung sinumang bansa ang mananalo din diyan sa bidding na ‘yan ay mayroong kasunduan talaga sa atin na ‘pag nahuli natin sila na bina-violate ang ating national security policies ay maaaring bawiin sa kanila itong magiging permit na magkaroon sila ng prangkisa dito sa atin,” Poe said in suspending the hearing.
Besides the assurance on national security, National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) chair Gamaliel Cordoba said foreign companies vying to be the third telco player should partner with local telecommunication companies that already have a Congress-issued franchise.
Poe said the constitutionally mandated rule on the ownership of a telecommunications company should be followed.
Cordoba also said the winning third player would be subject to a “commitment period” of five years wherein it would be audited yearly based on its promised performance, which include the coverage and internet speed.