Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday admitted that he has signed an agreement that allows the China-backed Dito Telecommunity Corporation to build cellular communication facilities such as towers and other equipment inside military camps.
At the hearing of the Department of National Defense’s proposed 2020 budget at the House of Representatives, Lorenzana said the Senate had initially asked for a copy of the deal to enable the chamber to review it.
However, the senators did not have any complaint or suggestion regarding it, he said.
“Yes, I signed the contract recently because last year, when the contract reached my table, [the] Senate also asked [for a] copy of the contract for them to scrutinize,” Lorenzana said.
“They came out with nothing naman. Wala silang (The senators had no) complaint or any recommendation on the contract. It was returned to the department and the senior officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines assured me that they will institute safeguards so as not to compromise national security and the security of our camps will be maintained,” he added.
The spokesman for the AFP, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, earlier said the presence of the structures inside military camps would not harm the country’s national security, adding that “it has more gains than risks.”
On the other hand, the telecommunications company has assured the public that their facilities would not be used to obtain classified information.
It is common knowledge that all Chinese companies are either owned by Chinese Communist Party itself or its members in good standing.
But a congressman who requested anonymity said that the installation of the Dito facilities in the military camps will make it even easier for the Chinese to determine the activities of the AFP and its officers.
“With those telecommunications towers in the camps, the commanders will not even be able to go to the toilet without the Chinese knowing it,” a congressman, who is knowledgeable in military affairs, said.
Meanwhile, Assistant Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas urged the Department of Transportation to focus on improving the safety of land-based modes of public transportation next year amid the challenges to mobility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the House appropriations committee budget hearing of the DoTR, Vargas, vice chairman of the House appropriations committee, said DOTr should prioritize increasing the number of modes of public transport available to the public instead of pushing through with the public utility vehicle modernization program.
“DOTr still pegs its 2021 budget for the road sector on the PUV modernization program. This suggests that the agency is out of touch with reality as public transport industry players have repeatedly said they don’t have the means to upgrade their vehicles according to the conditions set by DOTr,” he said.
The bulk of the DOTr’s proposed P143.6-billion budget for 2021 will go to the rail sector. The road sector’s proposed P509-million funding represents less than one percent of the agency’s spending plan. Of this amount, 80 percent will go to the day-to-day operations of the Land Transportation Office and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board. This means programs for improving land-based public transport will barely have funding.
Vargas said that while constructing new railways are vital, priority should also be given to improving land-based public transport since it will take years for rail projects to be completed.
“Getting people to move around cities is important as we restart the economy. DOTr should find ways to make commuting convenient by increasing the availability of PUVs,” he said.