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Third telco row: Senate to give priority to public interest in deciding the issue interest

Senator Grace Poe said Thursday public interest would be of highest importance in releasing the Senate committee position on the third telco franchise row.

Poe, the public services panel chairman, maintained she wanted the third telco selection to “move forward for the interest of our country” of having a fast, reliable and cost-efficient telco service provider. 

She said her committee would come up with its position to settle the issue on the status of Mislatel’s (Mindanao Islamic Telephone Co.) franchise that Congress had granted in 1998, according to a statement released by her office.

Poe said her committee would sift through varying opinions and decide amid contentions on the vagueness of the franchise provisions, especially as regards who should decide that a franchise is valid or not.

“For the interest of the public, definitely mamadaliin namin na magkaroon ng opinyon ukol dito, kung ano ba ‘yung posisyon ng Senado at sana before the February 17 [deadline],” Poe said referring to the date of submission of Mislatel’s documents.

During the hearing Thursday, Senator Antonio Trillanes said Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy and the other officials of Udenna Corp., which is part of Mislatel Consortium, the third telco,  contributed millions of funds to bankroll the campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte for the May 2016 elections. 

“Your  officers and and board of directors contributed to  Mr. Duterte. So  that  favoring you (over the other telco players became clearer,” said Trillanes when he confronted Uy.

According to Trillanes, Mislatel Consortium was afforded  preferential treatment after it was chosen by the government as the new major player in the telecommunications sector.

Trillanes inquired from  Uy, also  chairman of Udenna and Chesea Logistics Holdings Corp. if he’s close to the President and presidential aide Christopher Go. 

After answering “yes” to both queries, Trillanes then questioned Uy if he gave campaign funds for the President who admitted giving P30 million. 

He also conceded that this wife, Cherylyn Uy, treasurer of Udenna and Chelsea, gave campaign funds.

Mislatel Consortium—composed of Uy’s Udenna and Chelsea, China Telecom—was named in November 2018 as the new major player in the country’s telecommunications sector.

The  other officers of the consortium and the amount of contributions to the campaign kitty of Duterte are: Efren Uy—board member of Chelsea Logistics—P3.5 million, Chryss Alfonsus Damuy, OIC of Udenna and president and CEO of Chelsea, P500,000; Ma. Henedina V. San Juan, corporate secretary of Udenna and Chelsea--P400,000;:Ignacia S. Braga IV, vice president for finance of Udenna and Chelsea Logistics—P150,000.

Uy initially denied that Udenna officers gave camoaign funds   to the President, but when Trillanes said he has a list, Uy quipped, “hindi ko po memorize [I can’t memorize sir].”

Because of the issues hounding Mislatel, Trillanes said he saw many wrongdoing, conflict of interest, graft, indirect bribery.

But when   Department of Information and Communication Technology Acting Secretary Eliseo Rio was asked if he shared the “observations” of Trillanes, he described them as “something for public consumption.”

He maintained that Mislatel was chosen since it was the only bidder for the thrid telco which met the requirements needed by the government. 

He said Mislatel was compliant based on the provisions enumerated in the Terms of Reference.

Speaking during the hearing, Rio said initial  concerns on the entry of a new telco  had been addressed by the Mislatel Consortium. 

These are frequencies available, interconnectivity cost, use of dark fiber, and the establishment. 

He said more frequencies were made available to the new player by having five megaHertz of 3G frequencies. 

This puts Mislatel ahead of Globe Telecom in terms of 3G frequencies.

Regarding the interconnectivity cost concern, he said the National Transmission Commission came up with the a memorandum circular that would make interconnection charges from P2.50 to P.50, which he said was one of the lowest in Southeast Asia.

The Mislatel Consortium also signed a joint partnership venture with the National Transmission Corporation  for the use of 2,200 dark fiber for its “backbone” operations this January. 

He said the NMP could now use the backbone of Transco. 

It will not have to make its own,” Rio said.

Lastly, the DICT addressed the concern on the establishment of common towers in the country by opening the market to common tower providers through memoranda of understanding.

Sought for her comment on Trillanes’ claims, Poe said she rejected that Uy was favored by the government in the selection process due to his closeness to the President. 

Uy also admitted he owned a plane where he shared rides with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Executive Salvador Medialdea, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, who were members of the oversight committee for the third telco selection.The senator said the rides happened around the time when the third telco was at the peak of selections. 

But Uy repeatedly insisted it did not violate any laws and went through the process of preparing for the bid for almost a year until it was cosen by the National Telecommunications Commission as the third telco.

Despite the absence of a franchise of the consortium, Uy, who faced the committee for the first time, promised that Mislatel would not just be the third telco but the “best” telco that is “fast, affordable, and most importantly, secured.”

Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the franchise of Mislatel was void “ipso facto” since it was not able to operate within a year from the grant of franchise

Mislatel  was granted franchise in April 1998.

Nicanor Escalente, Mislatel president and chief executive officer, said sometime in 2001, the company was given a provisional authority to operate in Parang, Maguindanao.

“The company was ready to roll out in 2003 but the peace and order situation did not allow the company to roll out. The company did not operate somewhere else,” he said. ​

Topics: Grace Poe , Senate , Hermogenes Esperon , Antonio Trillanes , Dennis Uy , Rodrigo Duterte
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