Pangilinan raises security worries on Chinese-backed telco
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday raised his concerns on the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Dito Telecommunity Corp. (former Mislatel), the country’s third telco player, to allow the installation of communication towers in military camps.
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.
“Under their Counter-Espionage Law of 2014 (CEL) and Chinese National Intelligence Law of 2017 (CNIL) the Chinese government lays down instances wherein its citizens and organizations can be mobilized in support of espionage activities as well as information and intelligence gathering,” he said at the plenary budget hearing of the Department of National Defense.
“We are also concerned about the personal information of our kababayans. Again this is information communication technology. We do hope that before an approval is made, there is serious assessment regarding putting safeguards in place to ensure that the personal information of those using this telco will be protected, that there would be no breach,” he added.
Dito is 40 percent owned by China Telecom, which is controlled by the Chinese government.
‘AFP systems prone to eavesdropping and interception’
Pangilinan was able to scrutinize the details of the MOA after he requested a copy of it at a Senate hearing in late September. DND also provided him a risk analysis report.
In the risk analysis, he said the DND acknowledged that the AFP’s communication systems are vulnerable to spying and interception.
“The risk analysis states that the AFP fixed communication system, which links together with the military camps and bases nationwide, is susceptible to electronic eavesdropping and interception. The risk analysis further mentions that the equipment to intercept signals is readily and cheaply available. In other words, you can really intercept,” the senator said.
But the AFP also guaranteed in the report that it will adopt physical access security and network security measures to mitigate the risks, he said.
“China Telco is a state-owned company. Their law says that authorities can mobilize individuals or organizations to carry-out espionage. That being the case therefore, there is really a need to ensure that we have the highest safeguards or measures of security in place with respect to this particular memorandum of agreement,” he said.
The senator also emphasized he was not against entering into a MOA but he wants a guarantee that the country’s interests are not compromised.
“I’d like to stress that I’m not objecting on entering into a MOA. I would just like to make sure that entering into this MOA, we do have clear cut safeguards to be able to protect our national interest and national security,” he said.
For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who has the final say on whether to approve or reject the deal, said he is waiting for the inputs of lawmakers concerned before he decides on it.
He earlier said he was inclined to approve the MOA but now he appears to be thinking it over once more.
“We are not thinking twice, thrice, four times also. Hintayin ko muna ‘yung concerns nila. Kailangan ma-address ‘yung concerns nila (I will wait for their concerns. We need to address it),” he said.
Edited by KGA
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