Despite security concerns, Lorenzana signs contract with China-backed telco

Despite national security concerns, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has signed the contract with China-backed telecommunications company Dito Telecommunity, which would allow the telco to build cell sites within Philippine military camps.

"I signed the contract recently," Lorenzana said on Tuesday, September 8, as he was defending the defense department's 2021 budget at the House of Representatives.

He was responding to the question of Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, who expressed concern about the contract, and then asked Lorenzana if he has signed the contract.

Lorenzana acknowledged that senators in 2019 had asked him to reconsider the contract, but they apparently did not send any recommendations to him on how to edit the agreement.

"Last year, when the contract reached my table, the Senate also asked a copy of the contract for them to scrutinize. They came out with nothing. They had no complaint about any recommendation on the contract. It was returned to us," Lorenzana said.

He added that the Armed Forces of the Philippines assured him that they will institute "safeguards" to prevent any security breaches.

Why does this matter?

Lorenzana signed the contract with Dito Telecommunity despite a military risk analysis saying that radio frequency eavesdropping, interception, and jamming are among "highly likely" risks that come with allowing the contract to push through.

Being vulnerable to infiltration could be detrimental to the operations of the Philippine armed forces, and even the privacy and security of ordinary Filipinos.

Experts also warned that Filipinos are at risk of having their data farmed by China through Dito Telecommunity.

Because of similar risks, several developed countries have banned Chinese technology providers such as Huawei and ZTE from their communication systems to protect against espionage and data breaches.

Dito Telecommunity is a joint venture of Dennis Uy-led Udenna Corporation and Chelsea Logistics and Infrastructure Holdings Corporation and Beijing owned China Telecommunications. Uy is a Davao businessman who is known to be one of the top campaign contributors of President Rodrigo Duterte. –

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.