Malacañang on Monday said the government can withdraw from the deal between a Chinese company and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to put up telecommunications facilities inside military camps if it can threaten national security.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said this as some senators expressed worries over a memorandum signed last week by Dito Telecommunity, formerly Mislatel, and the AFP to build facilities in military camps to enable it to compete with other companies.
The memo directs the AFP to identify specific sites for rent where Dito Telecommunity will install and manage its facilities without affecting military operations.
AFP spokesperson Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo previously allayed fears that the agreement can be used for spying, but opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan described the deal as “disturbing.”
Pangilinan noted that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon had earlier warned against the increasing presence of Chinese nationals in the country.
“Certainly, if it involves national security, then this government can do something about it,” Panelo told reporters in a press briefing.
Panelo said the Defense chief had told him that he will investigate the deal.
“The DND [Department of National Defense] Secretary texted me about it and said he doesn’t know anything about it. And he is going to investigate the concerned people involved in the deal,” Panelo said.
He said Malacañang will await for Lorenzana’s findings before taking a stance on the matter.
The military said partnering with Dito Telecommunity, which is poised to become the country’s third major telco player, is nothing new as similar deals have been secured by its rivals Smart and Globe.
The memo also requires the telco firm to “furnish all equipment, labor, and materials necessary to effect the co-location of its facilities and shoulders all expenses in connection with or incidental to the co-location” and payment of all taxes, permits, licenses, and other charges, the AFP said.
Dito is a consortium led by Davao City-based businessman Dennis Uy and includes Udenna Corporation, Chelsea Logistics, and China Telecom, which is controlled by the Chinese government.
Pangilinan had pointed out that companies controlled by the Chinese government are mandated to gather and provide intelligence for China.
He was referring to China’s National Intelligence Law, which states that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law.”
Esperon admitted that he considers the influx of hundreds of thousands of Chinese nationals a security threat.
Pangilinan said other countries such as Australia, the United States, Japan, and New Zealand have already banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei due to security concerns.
He said he would raise his concerns during budget hearings.
“We will ask clarificatory questions regarding this deal. And we will look into this because we are funding the AFP and DND,” he said.