AFP bares agreement with Dito telco on cell sites inside camps

Published September 16, 2020, 2:07 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday made public of the details of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) it signed with the Dito Telecommunity on the planned establishment of the telco’s communication facilities inside military camps.

Armed Forces of the Philippines

Major General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said the country’s third telco player, which is 40-percent owned by China Telecom, could not easily build its cell sites and towers in military bases without passing through “stringent” requirements.

“Kahit pa pumayag tayo by means of this MOA na magkaroon ng co-location sa ating mga kampo, hindi ibig sabihin ganoon na lang kadali iyon. There will be stringent requirements and security measures na kailangan i-observe bago makapag-put up ng mga towers inside our camps (Even if we agree to co-locate to have  co-location with them in our cmaps by mens of this MOA, it does not mean that it will be that easy. There will be stringent requirements and security measures that are needed to be observed before they can put up towers inside our camps),” Arevalo said in a virtual presser.

One of the measures includes the implementation of strict security protocols for outsiders before they can enter military camps to build the facilities.

“Lahat ng access o pagpasok sa lugar o kampo na magkakaroon ng co-location ay may stringent security measures na ipatutupad. Kailangan kumpleto ang listahan ng tao at equipment na ipapasok, i-submit prior to the access na kanilang hinihingi. Kung tapos na, ganoon din kaailangan may request o clearance (Stringent security measures will be implemented when they access or enter the camps where there will be a co-location. They need to submit the full list of people and equipment that will enter [the camp] prior to the date when they would want the access),” Arevalo explained.

Once the communication facilities are finished, Arevalo said the AFP has the power to hire a third-party cybersecurity team that will conduct an audit of the existing communication facilities of the Dito Telecommunity.

The AFP also has the power to conduct unannounced physical and cybersecurity inspection of the facilities whenever deemed necessary. It is also given a full access into the servers of the Dito’s facilities which they can use for the military’s monitoring.

“Allowed tayo ng full access at visibility (We are allowed to have a full access and visibility),” Arevalo assured.

Aside from that, the military sppokesman also said that the Dito Telecommunity has guaranteed that it will not allow any of the parties affiliated to them to use the information obtained from the customers.

Arevalo said violation of this provision in the agreement may result to a legal case and the termination of the prtnership.

The MOA, signed in September 2019, allows the installation of Dito Telecommunity’s communication infrastructures in military camps in fullfillment of the requirements to be the country’s third telco player.

Lawmakers raised concerns that the Chinese government could take advantage of the opportunity to “spy on the Philippine military”, thus, putting at risk the national security.

Arevalo argued that with the advancement of technology, no country could ever say that its cybersecurity defense is 100-percent impenetrable.

“Walang 100 percent na makapagsasabing hindi tayo mapapasok pero ang sinisiguro natin (Nobody is saying that we will not be penetrated 100 percent but what we can guarantee is that) we will be on our toes,” he said.

“If there are any groups, persons or entities who would want to protect our national security, it would be us. That big responsibility is upon our shoulders. We will not let it be compromised to the best of our abilities,” he stated.

To prevent spying in military camps, Arevalo said they will utilize their personnel and reservists who have technical competency in cybersecurity, and seek the help of related government agencies like the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

AFP Chief Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay has ordered the updating of the guidelines in the implementation of agreements between the military and the other telcos including Globe and Smart.

Aside from Dito Telecommunity, the AFP has also signed separate memoranda with Globe and Smart for the co-location of its cell sites in military camps dating back to 2006.

Arevalo said Globe has 62 co-located cell sites out of its 3,000 total cell sites while Smart has 31 out of 9,700 cell sites.

“We need to update the guidelines because these were made years ago. The changes in the technology, communications, and infrastructure triggered the [AFP Chief’s] decision,” he stated.