By Mario Casayuran
Opposition senators on Thursday raised the security issue against a decision of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to award as the provisional third telecommunications player in the Philippines to a joint venture that included state-owned China Telecom.
“We don’t want a China Telecom joint venture to be NBN-ZTE Part 2 ($329 million) and North Rail project ($421 million) in our midst. If not exposed, it will rob the people billions of pesos,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Senators Francis N. Pangilinan, Antonio F. Trillanes IV, Leila de Lima, and Risa Hontiveros said.
“Our telecommunications need more industry players for the sake of the tens millions of Filipino consumers who deserve quality Internet and mobile services,” the senators said in a statement sent to Senate reporters.
“We long for a time when Filipinos would have free access to the Internet, when we could use our mobile phones without experiencing drop calls, when text messages would arrive on time, and when our private data would not be used without our knowledge or consent for commercial and intelligence. That’s why we need to do things right,” they pointed out.
The five senators maintained that the selection of the joint venture of a Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy and China Telecom as the provisional third telcoplayer should be examined carefully.
The senators fired the following questions:
• What qualified it in the first place?
• Why were the other bidders booted out?
• What is the track record of the winning bidder in the telecommunications business?
• Was the government opening up the bidding to other players just a formality? Masabilang that the government went through the process?
• In December 2017, Malacanang said it wants the government to ensure that China Telecom can begin its Philippine operations by the first quarter of 2018. Is this it?
They stressed that the government should be transparent about these matters because “allowing the joint venture to enter the industry means giving them access to our daily communication activities, a security issue for our country and our people.”
The NBN-ZTE and North Rail contracts were signed during the Arroyo administration.
The NBN-ZTE contract was aborted due to allegations of bribery while the North Rail contract was discontinued for alleged lack of technical expertise on the part of the Chinese contractor.
Meanwhile, Malacañang said that President Duterte has nothing to do with the selection of a consortium as the third telecommunications player in the country.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo rejected speculations that the President’s ties with Uy influenced the bidding process for the new major telco player, saying Duterte does not meddle in government transactions.
“I think it’s a baseless assumption because given the character of this President, it’s far-fetched. As we all know, relationship, alliances, friendship do not matter with this President,” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.
“What matter to him is you follow the law and I’ll be with you. You don’t follow it and I’ll be against you,” Panelo said,” he added.
Panelo maintained that the Mislatel consortium passed the preliminary screening for new major player without any intervention from the President. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)