Dito, DICT dismiss Chinese spying concerns about deal with AFP

JC Gotinga

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Dito, DICT dismiss Chinese spying concerns about deal with AFP
Under the agreement, the China-backed telco will pay for its use of the military's facilities – but in kind

MANILA, Philippines – The country’s third major telco Dito Telecommunity (formerly Mislatel) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) dismissed concerns that Dito’s facility “co-location” deal with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) might compromise the military’s cybersecurity.

“We want to assure the public that Dito has a cybersecurity plan, as approved by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), and that the company will always protect the national and cybersecurity interests of the Philippines,” Dito Telecommunity Chief Administrative Officer Adel Tamano said in a statement on Tuesday, September 17.

Dito’s cybersecurity plan was approved by the NTC, Tamano added.

Both parties have not released a copy of their agreement.

What we know so far are the following: 

1. The agreement has not been approved by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who vowed to scrutinize it.

2. On September 11, the AFP and Dito signed a memorandum of agreement that, according to the AFP’s official media release, would allow the telco “to build facilities in military camps and installations.”

3. Afterwards, however, the military clarified that the telco’s facilities would not necessarily be placed “within camps” but in military reservations, relay stations, and reflectors, and that those facilities would be “separate” from the military’s own communication installations.

4. Dito’s payment for using the AFP’s facilities will not be monetary, according to AFP chief of staff General Benjamin Madrigal, but in the form of equipment, upgrades, services, and trainings equivalent to the facilities’ rental value.

5. Dito and the DICT both pointed out that the third telco’s deal with the AFP is similar to the military’s existing arrangements with Globe Telecom and Smart Communications, which allow the telcos to set up communication equipment on towers built on the military’s relay stations.

No worries!

In a separate statement also released on Tuesday, the DICT said it understands cybersecurity concerns about the deal but it “assures our people that the country’s national interests, including cybersecurity interests, are protected and secure from electronic threats and espionage.”

“We have the NTC in charge of approving cybersecurity plans of telecommunications firms such as Dito Telecommunity, plus the Cybersecurity Bureau of DICT which now has a Cybersecurity Management System Platform, that can monitor threats to our cyberspace,” added DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr, a retired military general who once led the AFP’s Communication, Electronics and Information System Service.

But lawmakers and experts have raised concern over the deal’s implications on national security because it involves a Chinese government-controlled entity gaining a form of access to Philippine military facilities.

Chinese companies are required by law to provide intelligence – or to spy – for their government, and are prohibited from refusing to do so.

Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday filed a resolution calling for an investigation of the agreement. 

Hontiveros said the deal 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 provisions of the Act or by proclamation by the President.”

Hontiveros also cited the AFP Modernization Act which gives Congress the power to authorize the “sale, lease, or joint development of military reservations.”

Foreign ownership

In its statement, Dito pointed out that it complies with Philippine laws that limit foreign ownership of companies as “only 40% [of it] is owned by China Telecom.”

China Telecom is owned by the Chinese government.

Besides China Telecom, the Dito consortium includes Udenna Corporation and Chelsea Logistics, both led by Davao City-based businessman Dennis Uy, a friend of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Dito added that the country’s other major telcos are also partly foreign-owned – Globe by Singapore’s Singtel; Smart by Japan’s Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) – and both companies have been using Chinese-made technology and equipment.

General Madrigal again defended the arrangement on Tuesday, saying the NTC’s approval means cybersecurity issues have been checked and cleared. Besides, he added, they could not deny Dito an arrangement they already have with the other telcos.

DICT said telcos have had similar deals with the military since 1992, and “no classified information has been compromised thus far in around 126 military facilities with Globe and Smart cell sites.”

Instead, the deals have been “very instrumental in better operations for our military forces, saving the government millions of pesos in telecommunication services and equipment costs,” the DICT went on.

The AFP, Dito, and the DICT all said they would defer to Lorenzana, who’ s out of the country and will be back on Friday yet, September 20.

The Department of National Defense said that Lorenzana has the authority to reject the agreement. – Rappler.com


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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.