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National security at risk if 100% foreign-owned telcos allowed

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has warned of violation of the Constitution and national security risk if Congress enacted a law allowing 100 percent foreign ownership of telecommunication companies.

In a webinar of the Philippine Bar Association Friday, Carpio said, “The Supreme Court is supreme because it’s the final interpreter of words and phrases in the constitution. But if Congress will pass a law interpreting and redefining these terms and phrases you are taking away the power of the Supreme Court.

“This is a battle of turf between the Congress and the Supreme Court. It is the Supreme Court that will decide and they will also decide that Congress cannot reserve the power of the Supreme Court and to be the final arbiter of interpreting the constitution.”  

On the risk of third Chinese ownership of third Telco Dito, Carpio warned that, “Chinese law is mandating all Chinese companies, as citizens, to disclose to their intelligence services any information required by the intelligence service.

“That is a problem that the Philippines is allowing ChinaTel to install telecom equipment in military camps and the fact that we have a conflict with China.”  

Earlier on, the chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines gave assurances that allowing China-backed Dito Telecommunity Corp. to construct facilities inside military camps would not compromise national security.

During a hearing of the Commission on Appointments, Maj. Gen. Jose Eriel Niembra, a former commander of the Presidential Security Group, said they considered a lot of threats such as radio frequency jamming and interception but found the risks low.

He even told lawmakers that letting Dito build in military installations would give them access to these facilities to prevent possible Chinese intrusion of Philippine networks.

Niembra told Sen. Risa Hontiveros they conducted a risk assessment on the possible threat.

“The question with Dito Communications is because we perceive that because of this its Chinese nature, there may be threats,” he said.

“We considered four threats actually. First, the RF (radio frequency) interception, eavesdropping, radio frequency jamming and the result was that all the technical people in the Armed Forces found the risks to be low. So, there’s low risk or low possibility that these cell sites might intrude into our networks,” Niembra said.

Carpio added, “China is stealing territories such as the West Philippine sea and our maritime zones. We do not have that problem with Globe, PLDT, or with the Indonesians because we do not have territorial disputes with them.

“So, this is unique to DITO and ChinaTel. We have to be very careful because we are fighting to preserve our territorial maritime zones in the West Philippine sea and China is encroaching on our territory maritime zones.”  

Commenting on the country’s Digital Infrastructure, Carpio said, “The problem of telcos is that they do not have enough towers because they cannot get permits from the local governments.

“But under the Bayanihan Act 2, all permits have been suspended except for the building permits. So, they need only one permit which is good for three years. There is this window of opportunity.

“They can build all the towers that they want now and that will solve the problem of speed and availability of boundaries.”  

Prof. Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, who was also at the webinar, said, “Top priority must be the building of a robust and nationwide digital infrastructure that all sectors now realize as a critical service that must be accessible to all Filipinos. The sudden shift to cloud-based technologies for communications and economic activities will need strategic partnerships between the private sector and government and will be instrumental in recovering from this economic crisis.”  

He added, “A conducive policy environment that inspires confidence and boosts competitiveness will attract the right kind of investors who have the resources and technology to create long term positive impact to our economy and create the millions of jobs that our people need,” Manhit said.  

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) reported that 23 tower companies had been granted provisional certificates to participate in its accelerated tower program.

The DICT said the country needed over 50,000 towers to improve mobile connectivity nationwide, from Batanes to Tawi Tawi. Permitting timelines have also been limited to two weeks by drastic reforms in the permitting process. 

Topics: Antonio Carpio , national security risk , Philippine Bar Association
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