Flagging security concerns about Dito-AFP deal
DITO TELECOMMUNITY Corporation, formerly known as Mislatel, signed on September 11 a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which allows the company to set up telecommunication and internet facilities inside military camps. The consortium, which includes a company owned by the Chinese government, was favored by no less than President Duterte in its bid to become the third telco of the country.
With the exception of CNN Philippines, primetime newscasts did not report on the event of the MOA signing. Among the three leading Manila-based broadsheets, only the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a story the following day, but limited its coverage of the MOA signing to a news brief.
CMFR cheers the reports that flagged the security concerns arising from this agreement, providing the context that demonstrate the validity of these concerns.
On September 12, Chiara Zambrano’s report on ANC’s Rundown and ABS-CBN 2’s Bandila provided crucial information about Dito: 1) It is a consortium between the Udenna Corporation of Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy and the Chinese government’s China Telecom; 2) China Telecom says in its website that it aims to be a cyber power under the guidance of Chinese President Xi Jinping; and 3) China Telecom is now responsible for providing the network infrastructure in the Philippines.
Zambrano said these conditions may open
the country to Chinese espionage and make vulnerable civilian communication
lines, but more alarmingly, also those of the military. She added that Delfin Lorenzana,
Secretary of National Defense, had earlier expressed concern about the
increasing presence of Chinese-run online gambling sites near military
facilities, as these sites could be used for spying.
Some reports followed up with insights from security and defense analysts. CNN Philippines and Rappler interviewed Jose Antonio Custodio, who noted that while other countries such as the US have blacklisted Chinese technology companies because of security concerns, the Philippines has done the exact opposite.
Inquirer.net interviewed a Filipino intelligence official who called the agreement “a recipe for disaster.” The official, who requested anonymity, pointed out that the Philippines has weak cyber defenses in comparison to those of the United States. But even the cyber system of the US, supposedly the most advanced in the world, was compromised during the 2016 elections, the official said.
According to media reports, Lorenzana confirmed that he was unaware of the deal as he had been abroad during the signing. In a text message to the media, Lorenzana said “the MOA is going to my office for my approval.” Whether he gives a favorable response or not is another story media should follow closely.
Meanwhile, Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, Jr., chief of staff of the AFP, quickly downplayed security concerns. He claimed that the AFP could not deny Dito the same arrangement that they have with Globe and Smart, seemingly oblivious to the difference in the involvement of a foreign government in Dito.
The job of the press as a watchdog becomes crucial and its scrutiny justified as the Duterte administration continues to indulge China’s expansionist tendencies.