AFP ready to face Senate probe on Dito cell sites in military camps

Published September 15, 2020, 5:16 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)  welcomed Tuesday calls for a Senate hearing to discuss the implications of the planned construction of cell sites by the Dito Telecommunity in military camps.

Major General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said the hearing being called by Senator Risa Hontiveros will serve as an opportunity for the military to present to Congress “the whys and wherefores” of their decision to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Dito which will enable them to co-locate their cell sites in the AFP’s facilities.

“We respect the Senate’s oversight function. Thus, we are happy to be tasked and in fact welcome the call for a Senate inquiry on the signed MOA between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and (Dito Telecommunity) Corp.,” said Arevalo.

“Looking forward, this may even be an opportunity for the legislators to draw inputs from the said hearing on the matter to aid them in their legislative function,” he added.

Last Monday, Hontiveros urged the Senate to look into the agreement beteeen the AFP and the Dito Telecommunity as she called for vigilance against potential threat to the country’s national security. 

Issues about possible espionage have been raised since Dito, the country’s third telco player, is 40 percent owned by China Telecom, a company owned by the Chinese government.

“Nagpapasakop ba tayo? Ang isang China-owned telco sa kampo ng sarili nating militar ay lubos na kaduda-duda, lalo na at ang Tsina ay hindi humihinto sa agresibong pag-angkin sa West Philippine Sea, pagsira sa ating likas-yaman, at pag-abuso sa mga mangingisdang Pilipino (Are we letting ourselves be conquered? The presence of a China-owned telco in our military camps is so suspicious especially since China is not stopping in its aggressive claims in the West Philippine Sea, in destroying our natural resources, and in abusing Filipino fishermen),” said Hontiveros.

The lawmaker cited Article 7 of the Chinese National Intelligence Law which states that Chinese corporations are obliged to “support, assist, and cooperate” in the intelligence-gathering efforts of its government.

“There is also the Chinese Counter-Espionage Law that Chinese corporations cannot refuse to assist their government in this regard. This is already a warning signal, and yet the AFP seems to have forgotten the warning its mother department itself raised last year,” Hontiveros added. 

However, Arevalo has assured the public that the planned establishment of Dito cell sites in military bases poses only a “low threat” to the national security — a perception hit by Senator Ralph Recto.

“I am not yet ready to fully subscribe to suspicions that having [Dito] inside these national security compounds is like letting in an electronic Trojan horse. But it is better to be safe than sorry,” Recto said.

Arevalo stressed though that measures will be put in place to prevent possible espionage in military bases where the cell sites will be built.

The MOA, signed on September 11, 2019 by then AFP chief Benjamin Madrigal Jr. and representatives of Dito Telecommunity (formerly Mislatel), stated that the military “will determine specific locations with its rental value for use of Mislatel in the installation and management of its communication sites without undermining the operations of affected AFP units.”