’Unli-data’ in exchange for West Philippine Sea?’: Senators suspicious of Dito’s offer

Published March 18, 2021, 11:01 AM

by Hannah Torregoza 

The Philippine government should be wary of Dito Telecommunity’s promise of an improved network service through increased competition if the end result would be detrimental to the country’s sovereignty.


Senator Risa Hontiveros reiterated this point during the Senate’s plenary debate on Dito’s franchise bill, which seeks another 25-year franchise for the company which was picked by the government as the third telecommunications network.

The Senate has approved the bill on second reading on Wednesday, March 17.  Dito is owned by the Udenna Corp. of Davao-businessman Dennis Uy and state-run China Telecom and currently operates in Mindanao and Visayas region.

“Maitatanong po na: Ok na bang kapalit ang unli-data sa (We might ask: is it oky that in exchange for unli-data is our) West Philippine Sea? So, yes, more competition is welcome. But let us keep our eyes open and our guard up,” Hontiveros said during her interpellation of the measure.

“How can Dito ensure us that it is not the Chinese government that’s calling the shots?” she pointed out. Hontiveros also flagged the potential implications of the Public Services Act (PSA), which is currently for interpellation in the Senate as the PSA may allow 100 percent foreign ownership in multiple sectors, including possibly the telecommunications sector.

“Ang hinihingi po natin dito ngayon sa Dito ay maging tapat sa publikong Pilipino (What we are asking Dito is to be truthful to the Filipino public). Because, if Dito truly is Filipino run as it claims to be, instead of just a Filipino mask over an instrumentality of the ruling regime in China, can it promise the public that in the event the PSA is amended, a majority of Dito’s shares will remain with Filipinos?” Hontiveros said.

Senator Richard Gordon, who is also earlier among the senators who raised concerns over China’s increasing incursions in the West Philippine Sea, also said he is skeptical that Beijing won’t carry out espionage activities against the Philippine government. Gordon said it is imperative that Congress puts in place mechanisms that would prevent such activities that would put the country’s sovereignty in peril.

“Honestly, sincerely, are we so sure that this franchise will be controlled by Filipinos and not by the Chinese?” Gordon pointed out.

Sen. Grace Poe, who is tasked to defend Dito’s franchise bill as chair of the Senate public services panel, said that while she is not “100 percent” sure there would be no flaws, she is vouching on the huge investments and safeguards the Senate would put in place as motivating factors for Dito to deliver on its commitments.

Poe said it would be in the interest of the Filipino board members and

owners of Dito to make sure that the company would be compliant with

the country’s laws and guidelines of the franchise.

“If not, that can be grounds to cancel their franchise,” Poe assured.

Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, however, insisted that Dito would

finally be able to improve internet services in the Philippines badly

needed at this time of a COVID-19 pandemic.

While he is not disregarding the concerns Dito poses on national

security, Dela Rosa said this far outweighs the need to amplify

wireless network coverage in the region.

“I’m not discounting the concerns raised by my colleagues on defense

and security as well as imagined threats, but people are noticing

improvements on their cellular phone signal,” Dela Rosa said.

“They can now send text messages, access Facebook, and maximize the

use of their cellphones. I’m just taking the viewpoint of our ordinarycitizens,” he pointed out.