Senate panel eyes executive session amid security concerns on China-backed Dito telco
MANILA, Philippines — A face-to-face executive session in the Senate is being eyed to discuss national security concerns involving the China-backed Dito Telecommunity Corp., which is seeking a franchise renewal from Congress.
The idea of an executive session was broached by Senator Francis Pangilinan during Monday’s hearing of the Senate public services committee on the franchise renewal of Dito.
“A lot of the issues being discussed have serious implications in terms of national security, perhaps may consider at some point, calling on an executive so that we can discuss very sensitive national security issues and we will be able to discuss freely,” Pangilinan said.
Concerns were raised over the presence of Dito in the country after the country’s defense department earlier inked a deal with the com that would allow the company to build cell sites inside Philippine military camps.
Dito is a consortium of Davao businessman Dennis Uy’s, a close ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, Udenna Corporation and its subsidiary Chelsea Logistics Corporation, and Chinese state-owned China Telecommunications Corporation.
Pangilinan noted that the US Department of Defense flagged 20 companies which it believes have links to the People’s Liberation Army.
Further, he pointed out that Chinese companies, under the People’s Republic of China’s Counter Espionage Law of 2014 and Chinese National Intelligence Law of 2017, are mandated to cooperate in intelligence gathering and data gathering.
Chinese companies are also required to conduct espionage activities and immediately report to the government critical information they gathered, he noted.
Senator Grace Poe, chair of the public services panel, said she would consider Pangilinan’s suggestion.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, proposed that the executive session be done face-to-face to avoid any possible hacking incidents.
“I do not know of any platform that is not hackable at this point in time. We’d have to call for an offline, safer is face-to-face, unfortunately it will be more dangerous because of the risk of the coronavirus but i think that’s the best option if you want to talk about state secrets particularly issues on cybersecurity,” Zubiri said.
“Maybe we can schedule a date in the Senate and have it in the lounge, we just [need to] be careful, social distancing na lang,” he added.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. shared Zubiri’s concern and agreed with the conduct of an offline executive session.
“Zoom is primarily owned by Chinese majority, but they are not citizens of China. If we continue to be very suspicious of China, we might as well go face-to-face,” Esperon told senators.
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