AFP: Measures in place vs China spying via telco | Inquirer News

AFP: Measures in place vs China spying via telco

By: - Reporter / @NCorralesINQ
/ 04:55 AM September 12, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday said safeguards had been put in place to prevent China from spying on the country’s military facilities through a Beijing-backed telecommunications company.

AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo made the remarks in a television interview to quell security concerns over an agreement between the Department of National Defense (DND) and DITO Telecommunity Corp. which allows that company to build cell phone towers inside military camps around the country.


Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday told a hearing at the House of Representatives that he signed the agreement recently but did not specify the date.

DITO is a consortium between state-owned China Telecom and Udenna Corp. of Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy, who was among President Duterte’s top election campaign donors. China Telecom owns 40 percent of the company.


Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, an outspoken critic of China’s encroachments in the West Philippine Sea, called the DITO-DND deal a “dumb” move.

He told CNN Philippines on Thursday that China had the capacity to install spy software through the towers. Letting DITO build cell sites inside military camps “is like allowing China to put a listening device in your conference room,” Carpio said.

‘Low threat’

But Arevalo dismissed such apprehensions when he was interviewed, also by CNN Philippines, on Friday.

“We addressed that. The risk to have that possibility is very low,” Arevalo said. “There’s a low threat in terms of concerns about spying, listening devices or eavesdropping. We have studied that.”

He said safeguards had been put in place against espionage and other security risks, adding that the military had conducted an assessment before signing the deal with DITO.

One of the security measures is to ensure the presence of an “IT expert from the AFP and other agencies of the government, particularly the NTC [National Telecommunications Commission]” whenever and wherever a DITO installation was to be setup, Arevalo said.

“Definitely if there will be non-Filipinos or foreigners who will enter our camps, the requirement for clearances, identification, prior notice, those would have to be presented,” he said.


Arevalo added that the DITO cell sites would not necessarily be “at the heart” of military camps.

“We have camps with big reservations and we can colocate there together with the other signal facilities of Globe and Smart,” he said, adding that the deal was “not specially or specifically catering DITO Telecommunity.”

Kiko cites US ban

“This is the same deal that we have so far granted to these two telecoms,” he said.

Arevalo declined to specify other safeguards. “I just can’t mention everything because those are part of the matters that are also of national security,” he said.

Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the decision of the United States and other countries “more technologically advanced” than the Philippines to ban Chinese telcos for alleged spying should have been enough of an “eye-opener” for the administration to reject the agreement between the DND and DITO.

“We should learn from their experience,” Pangilinan said in a statement on Friday. “[Lorenzana] should rescind the deal as it compromises the security of our citizens and our country as a whole, especially security of our data, which is the currency of this century.”

DITO guarantee

DITO chief administrative officer Adel Tamano on Wednesday said the AFP “has in place stringent protocols that disallow foreign nationals from performing sensitive technical work within military camps.”

He added that the security requirements imposed on DITO were more strict than those on Globe and Smart, whose partners were Japanese and Singaporean telecommunications companies, respectively.

“DITO Telecommunity guaranteed that its devices, equipment and structures shall not be used to obtain classified information from the Armed Forces,” Tamano said.

Even then, critics have pointed to China’s intelligence and espionage laws mandating their companies to spy for the government when ordered.

Tamano insisted that that would not happen, pointing to its cybersecurity plan which was required when it was selected as the winner of a telco license in 2018.

“It may be more important to focus more on the fact that DITO has committed to invest P250 billion to improve the Philippine telco industry and has continuously been providing much needed investments and jobs for our countrymen especially during this pandemic,” he said.

Under a five-year commitment to the government, the company will cover 37 percent of the population and offer a minimum average internet speed of 27 megabits per second on its first year.

By the end of its fifth year, DITO committed to cover 84 percent of the population and offer internet speeds of 55 Mbps. —with reports from Marlon Ramos and Miguel R. Camus

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TAGS: China, espionage, Udenna Corp.
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