DND concerned about AFP deal with China-backed telco

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-of-Staff, Gen. Benjamin Madrigal (2nd from right); AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications, Electronics, and Information Systems, Maj. Gen. Adrian Sanchez Jr. (right); Mindanao Islamic Telephone Company chief administrative officer, lawyer Adel Tamano (left); and Dito president and chief executive officer Dennis Uy (2nd from left) lead the ceremonial signing of memorandum of agreement allowing the new telco player to build its communications facilities in military camps and installations held at  the AFP Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City last September 11. | PNA photo by Joey Razon

The Department of National Defense (DND) on Monday, September 16, said it has a concern over the agreement between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Chinese-linked telco firm Dito Telecommunity Corp.

“Nothing unusual, just that when somebody puts something up inside camp, we have to look into this always,” said DND spokesperson Director Arsenio Andolong in an interview on the sidelines of the plenary hearing for the DND’s 2020 budget at the House of Representatives.

“As with any proponent or entity that wishes to put up any infrastructure inside camp, we have a concern always,” he added.

The AFP on Wednesday, September 11, signed an agreement with Dito Telecommunity that allows the telco to put up its communication equipment and facilities inside military camps and military communication sites.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said he was unaware of the agreement at the time it was signed, and that he will now “carefully scrutinize” it.

“I am traveling kasi when this came out. When I inquired the CSAFP said the MOA is going to my office for my approval. So now I am aware of it and I will scrutinize it carefully before giving my approval. I’ll be back in Manila on the 20th,” he said in a text message.

Despite this, the deal with Dito Telecommunity followed the regular process, according to Andolong, as the AFP is “usually authorized” to enter into agreements which are later submitted to the secretary of national defense (SND) for evaluation.

“Whether they like it or not, dadaan kay SND ‘yan (it will pass through SND)… The buck stops with the SND. It’s up to him whether he will approve this or not,” Andolong said.

Threat to national security?

Dito Telecommunity being composed of a consortium with Chinese government-controlled China Telecom has drawn worries and criticism that China may use the deal for espionage.

Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas on Monday expressed concern over the deal’s national security implications, pointing out the danger of having a Chinese-backed telco gaining access to Philippine military facilities.

However, the AFP dismissed the concerns, explaining that the facilities of Dito Telecommunity would be “physically separate” from the military’s own communication lines, and that they would be built in military reservations, not necessarily “within camps.”

AFP public affairs chief Colonel Noel Detoyato, for his part, said they are open to Lorenzana scrutinizing the agreement as well as to calling the deal off should he find anything that compromises national security.

Andolong, meanwhile, is firm in his belief that the AFP exercised due diligence before signing the agreement with Dito Telecommunity.

“I think the AFP knows what it’s doing. They had their own vetting and evaluation of the deal. So we’re pretty confident that they did that,” Andolong said. 

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