By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Risa Hontiveros is now seeking an inquiry into the alleged agreement signed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with a Chinese telecommunications company allowing the latter to install its communications equipment and facilities on land leased within military bases across the country.
Hontiveros said the Senate should probe the national security implications of such an agreement with Dito Telecommunity Corp., a Chinese telecommunications firm formerly known as Mislatel Consortium, which Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he was unaware of.
According to the senator, the alleged agreement between the AFP and Mislatel, is a joint venture between President Rodrigo Duterte’s friend, businessman Dennis Uy, with state-run China Telecom.
Hontiveros noted that this is the second time that Lorenzana was “left in the dark” and “clueless” about Chinese deals with serious national security implications.
Last month, Lorenzana said that he was not consulted regarding the security issues surrounding the plan to allow Chinese firms to develop three Philippine islands, which he said are strategic maritime fronts that play a significant role in Philippine military history.
“Is there now a ‘sign first, worry about security later’ policy under this administration? Ito na ang pangalawang beses na hindi nakonsulta ang defense secretary tungkol sa mga diumanong Chinese deals na pinapasok ng ating pamahalaan na may seryosong implikasyon sa ating pambansang seguridad, (This is the second time that the Defense secretary was not consulted over the Chinese deals that the government has entered which has serious national security implications,)” Hontiveros said.
“Sa isang panahon na patuloy ang panghihimasok ng Tsina sa West Philippine Sea, napaka-iresponsable na pumasok tayo sa mga kasunduan sa kanila na hindi sinusuri ang epekto nito sa ating pambansang seguridad at kaligtasan, (At a time when China continues to invade our territories in the West Philippine Sea, it is so irresponsible for the government to enter into an agreement without studying its effects on our national security and safety),” the senator lamented.
Hontiveros, in filing Senate Resolution No. 137, said it is imperative for lawmakers to check whether the agreement is constitutional. She said as she sees at least two laws of the land are being violated by the said agreement.
She said that the provisions of the said agreement allowing lease of portions of military bases may be in violation of Section 88 of the Public Land Act, which states that “military reservations cannot be subject to lease, occupation, entry, sale, or other disposition, until declared alienable by provisions of the Act or by proclamation by the President.”
The pact may also be a violation of the AFP Modernization Act, which states that any “sale, lease or joint development of military reservations must be authorized by Congress.”
“Wherefore, there is an urgent need to determine whether or not the presence of Chinese facilities in military bases and installations undermines national security and whether or not the lease agreements entered into for this purpose comply with applicable law,” Hontiveros said.
In a separate statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also criticized Malacañang’s move to conceal the information on the AFP-Chinese telecom deal from the Defense secretary.
“If the Secretary of DND was left clueless about the China Telecom-AFP deal in his own backyard, then maybe it is time to install a radar system in his office,” Recto said.
“If this deal can fly stealthily under the nose of the man responsible for our nation’s defense, then it raises anew the vulnerability of our borders from intruders,” he added.
Recto said allowing a Chinese telecommunication company to install towers inside the Philippine military camps should have been cleared at the highest level due to its security implications.
“The concern that these could morph into embedded listening devices, and that the project is like letting an electronic Trojan horse into our camps, should have been subjected to third party expert study,” Recto stressed.
“This is the clean bill needed before the project can be green-lighted,” he reiterated.
Before the AFP brushes aside well-meaning reservations about this project, Recto said it should note “that citizens are merely using its talking points against the planned lease to Chinese companies of three islands off the northern tip of Luzon.”