Lorenzana unaware of AFP-Mislatel deal, vows probe – Panelo

MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana himself was uninformed about the Philippine military's deal with a China-backed telecommunications provider to install equipment in military bases, said Malacañang on Monday, September 16.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Lorenzana admitted this and vowed to probe the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Mislatel consortium and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

"The DND secretary texted me about it and said he doesn't know anything about it and he is going to investigate and ask the concerned people involved in the deal," said Panelo during a Palace news briefing.

Malacañang will await for Lorenzana's findings before taking any definite stance on the matter.

Lorenzana has not responded to Rappler's request for him to verify Panelo's claims about his statement. The defense chief is yet to speak publicly about the AFP-Mislatel arrangement.

Not too late to cancel deal. Panelo said the MOA can still be cancelled, should security officials identify any impact on national security the deal may pose.

"Certainly [they will leave the deal]. If it involves national security then this government can do something about it," said President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman.

Senators and security experts had previously pointed out the major impact and obvious risks the arrangement would have on national security and even the Philippines' coordination with its defense allies – such as the United States, which has a policy against working with technology that involves Chinese systems.

Opposition senator Francis Pangilinan reminded the administration that it was Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr themselves who raised the possibility that Chinese nationals in the country hired to work at online gaming operation hubs could be used for espionage. Hubs of their operations are located near military camps.

Despite the concerns of the country's two top security officials, the military pushed through with its deal with Mislatel. 

Mislatel is poised to become the country's 3rd major telecommunications player, under the name Dito Telecommunity. It is a consortium led by Davao City-based businessman Dennis Uy, and includes Udenna Corporation, Chelsea Logistics, and China Telecom, which is controlled by the Chinese government.

Pangilinan had pointed out that companies controlled by the Chinese government are mandated to gather and provide intelligence – or to spy – for China.

Chapter 1, Article 7 of China’s National Intelligence Law states, "Any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law..."

Security and defense analyst Jose Antonio Custodio had told Rappler that it's probable for China to use Mislatel’s facilities to "siphon information," despite AFP chief Benjamin Madrigal's claims that the military can prevent this from happening. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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