Pangilinan revives doubts about Dito Telecom deal with AFP

Published January 10, 2021, 6:35 PM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan has pressed the government to review the security risks involved in the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Dito Telecommunity, which is partially owned by a Chinese telecommunications company.

Senator Francis Pangilinan
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Pangilinan reiterated his call following the US Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) move to stop China Telecom (Americas) Corp.’s operation in the United States for security reasons.

FCC chair Ajit Pail had stressed how the Chinese government mandates firms like China Telecom to covertly siphon sensitive information and to intercept communications from the US.

The FCC has also asked China Telecom and three other telecommunication companies (Telcos) to show evidence to prove “that they are not at the behest of the Chinese Government.”

Aside from the FCC, the US Departments of Defense, Commerce, Justice and State and Homeland Security also shared concerns over the Chinese government’s control over China Telecom and three other Chinese Telcos.

“China Telecom is a Chinese company. What if the Chinese government says—you have access there—you are mandated to turn over information to us because we have the National Intelligence Law and the counter-espionage law?” Pangilinan said of ChinaTel.

Pangilinan had repeatedly cited the security risks posed by the MOA between the AFP and the Dito Telecommunity particularly on the setting up of communication facilities and cell towers within military camps.

He had also urged the Senate to discuss the matter in a closed-door session since it concerns “very sensitive national security issues.”

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Services, and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri had earlier acceded to Pangilinan’s call for an executive session to discuss the cyber-security issues hounding Dito.

Aside from Pangilinan, Sen. Risa Hontiveros had also sought a deeper probe into the AFP-Dito deal to ascertain if the Philippine government would be unwittingly “allowing ourselves to be conquered” by China.

“This agreement must be scrutinized because it’s hard to believe that China has no selfish interests in building cell sites in our own military camps,” Hontiveros had earlier said.

“It’s as if the Chinese state itself is present within our military camps. Our national security is at risk here,” she stressed.