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Senate to review AFP deal with Chinese-backed telco

/ 02:06 AM October 01, 2019
Defense Secretary Defense Lorenzana attends the Senate Budget Hearing of the Department of National Defense on September 30, 2019. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Defense Secretary Defense Lorenzana attends the Senate Budget Hearing of the Department of National Defense on September 30, 2019. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Monday requested Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to defer an agreement allowing a Chinese-backed telecom for, to build communication facilities in military camps after they have examined it.

“Out of courtesy perhaps for a co-equal, the executive and legislative branches, maybe we can defer approval of this until such time that we’ve been able to raise additional questions if the questions would be forthcoming,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan told Lorenzana at a Senate budget hearing.

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Senators also asked for a copy of the memorandum of agreement.

Early this month, the Armed Forces of the Philippines entered into a memorandum of agreement with Dito Telecommunity Corp. (former Mislatel), the country’s third telco player, to allow the installation of communication towers on military camps.

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Lorenzana, who was abroad during the signing, has yet to review the agreement before he decides if he would approve it.

But he downplayed security concerns over the deal, as he said that it would be built in the same areas where Globe and Smart have their facilities.

China Telecom owns 40 percent of the consortium controlled by Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy, a close friend of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Because it is a Chinese state-owned firm, there are fears that it will be compelled to be used for espionage by Beijing, whose laws are required to follow orders, like access state secrets, if necessary.

‘Why did Congress approve it?’

But Lorenzana also tried to question why Congress helped Dito Telecom to obtain its permit to operate to begin with.

“The franchise of this was approved by Congress. If there are questions about the ownership, why did Congress approve it?” he asked.

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Sen. Franklin Drilon argued that the concern was not the 40 percent stake of China Telecom in the consortium but the location of the communication towers in military camps.

The senator reminded Lorenzana that it was him who warned about the security threat from Philippine offshore gaming operators which have established a presence near military camps. But the defense chief said the POGOs were a bigger concern.

“In the POGOs, there are people around the area, several hundreds of them. In the towers, I don’t see any Chinese going there to man the towers,” Lorenzana said.

“How are they going to listen if it’s just a transmitter?” he asked.

But nonetheless, the defense chief reassured the lawmakers that he would “act according to the national interest” when he had come up with his decision on the agreement.

/atm

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TAGS: AFP-dito deal, China-backed telecom firm, Delfin Lorenzana
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