Senator Risa Hontiveros said Monday the China-owned Dito Telecommunity Corporation’s presence in the country raises more concerns when the Philippines appears to be unprepared to defend itself against cyber threats and attacks.
“The Chinese government has a 40-percent stake in Dito telco. Tapos hindi pala handa ang ating mga depensa laban sa cyberattacks. Dapat hindi nauunahan ng isang Chinese government, sa pamamagitan ng ChinaTel, ang pagpapatayo ng mga networks sa bansa kung may unresolved issues pa sa seguridad at depensa,” Hontiveros said.
This developed as Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan called for an executive session to discuss the national security concerns on Dito Telecommunity’s business connection with China Telecom.
Sen. Grace Poe, chairperson of the Committee on Public Services, presided over the virtual hearing Monday, looking into the renewal of a franchise granted to Dito Telecommunity, formerly Mindanao Islamic Telephone Company, Inc., and the granting of a franchise to a new applicant, Instant Data, Inc.
During the Senate hearing on Dito telco’s franchise, Pierre Galla of Demoracy.net.ph said the country had not established a cyber defense doctrine to guide the Armed Forces and intelligence community in combating threats in the digital landscape, including those posed by state-sponsored hacking groups.
“Kailangan magkaroon na nito bago pa magpapasok ng isang kumpanyang maaring gamiting Trojan horse. Alam naman natin na may pansariling interes ang Tsina sa ating bansa, kaya this so-called cyber defense doctrine should be established quickly,” the senator said.
During the hearing, Hontiveros said that a China-based hacking group, code name “Naikon,” had been quietly carrying out a five-year espionage campaign against Asia-Pacific governments, including the Philippines.
“ChinaTel is not a private corporation. This is a proxy of a Chinese regime intent on pushing its weight around and imposing its will upon the region. By allowing a proxy of the Chinese government to set up networks in the country, as well as facilities in our military camps, it is reasonable to conclude that a state-sponsored hacking group can easily get one foot in our door. It might become the spearhead of a Chinese cyber offensive against the country,” said Hontiveros who filed Senate Resolution 137 that seeks to probe the deal between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Dito.
Hontiveros said under Chinese law, a Chinese corporation was obliged to cooperate in intelligence-gathering efforts.
“We cannot divorce Dito’s franchise from ChinaTel’s stake in it. At a time when China continues her adventurism in contested territories in the West Philippine Sea, it is even more crucial that we stay vigilant and fiercely protect what is rightfully ours,” Hontiveros said.
Earlier, Hontiveros expressed alarm over CreatorTech’s new study that reveals, among other things, that “ChinaTel was reporting directly to the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and that ChinaTel had close ties with China’s Armed Forces.”
“This fact alone is alarming enough, especially at a time when China continues her adventurism in contested territories in the West Philippine Sea,” Hontiveros said.
“This [Dito] is a proxy of a Chinese regime intent on pushing its weight around and imposing its will upon the region.
“Time and again, I have raised concerns regarding China-owned Dito telco’s intrusion in the country. The revelations in CreatorTech’s new study are not surprising, given that many of our own experts have already flagged national security issues.”
Poe cited a Department of Information and Communications Technology national household survey which showed that almost 64 percent of Filipino communities have no telco towers in their areas.
The same survey said 84 percent of Filipinos have no internet access while 70 percent of barangays have no fiber optic cables and almost 88 percent of barangays have no access to free wifi even though the country has a free wifi law.
Pangilinan made the pronouncement before Poe’s committee as he underscored the need to look into the serious implications in terms of national security that Dito might bring, being a company partially owned by China Telecom.
Poe acceded to Pangilinan’s call for an executive session.
Pangilinan disclosed China Telecom is one of the 20 companies listed by the United States Department of Defense that have direct links to the People’s Liberation Army. 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.
He also Chinese companies are also required to conduct espionage activities and immediately report to the government critical information they gathered.
The Senator also raised concern over the agreement that the Department of National Defense (DND) has entered into with Dito for the establishment of towers in military camps.