Recto on Dito cell sites: Military camps should be no-go zones for possible 'electronic Trojan horse'

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Recto on Dito cell sites: Military camps should be no-go zones for possible 'electronic Trojan horse'
In this Sept. 9, 2020, screengrab, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto is seen attending a Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) briefing on the proposed 2021 national budget through video conference.
Released / Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines — A senator on Thursday questioned the Department of National Defense's decision to allow China-backed Dito Telecommunity Corp. to build cell towers inside the country's military camps. 

"Dito can build their sites anywhere in this wide expanse of land —and government should help them — except in the 25 Navy bases and stations, 53 Army bases, and 17 air bases and stations, which should be declared as no-go zones for this company," Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said. 

According to Recto, the company should instead consider building cell towers in the country's almost 50,000 public schools and state universities. In addition to this, the senator said they ought to "pay rent in cash and in kind, the latter in free broadband for the students." 

This comes after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday confirmed to the appropriations committee of the House of Representatives that he recently signed a contract submitted to him by Dito Telecommunity Corp.

"I think this is just fair for Dito because they will be just providing signals or telco services in the provinces. They also want to be inside camps for security and protection,” Lorenzana said as he defended the P209.1-billion proposed budget of the DND for 2021.

However, Recto questioned the move, saying: "The military is not that big a landlord whose holdings are crucial in a telco's operations. Why insist on building on military real estate?" 

"The Philippines has a land area of 30 million hectares, with military installations occupying a fraction of it, maybe not even 1/10th of 1 percent of the total," he said.  

In addition to this, he claimed that the military has "enjoyed a most-favored agency status" for half a century and has no need to further augment its budget through a "land lease sideline business."

"More so if the tenant is 40% owned by a state-owned foreign company whose principal allegiance, under the laws of that country, is to its government," Recto added. 

"I am not yet ready to fully subscribe to suspicions that having them inside these national security compounds is like letting in an electronic Trojan horse. But it is better to be safe than sorry," the lawmaker warned. 

Carpio: Allowing Dito cell towers in military camps a 'dumb' move

Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Thursday criticized the military's decision in stronger terms, saying that it further exasperated the already existing security and privacy concerns in the country. 

"I think it’s very dumb of us to allow those towers to be installed inside military camps,” Carpio said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source.

“You ask any security analyst who’s familiar with cybersecurity, and they will tell you, absolutely do not allow towers to be installed in your military camps," he added. 

According to Carpio, allowing Dito to build cell towers inside the country's military camps "is like allowing China to put a listening device in your conference room." 

"Just imagine, putting a tower inside of the military camp— and the equipment, all those chips on these towers are made in China, they can just put in spy firmware, the software come[s] from China,” he added.

Amid these concerns, Dito gave assurance that it would not pose a security risk to the country. 

Dito chief administrative officer Adel Tamano said the firm is “first and foremost a Filipino-owned and managed company” that will always look after the interests of the Filipino people.

Tamano added that the memorandum of agreement inked with the AFP contained the same provisions signed by Globe and Smart, with the notable exception that provisions were added pertaining to commitments of Dito to national security.

“Dito Telecommunity guaranteed that its devices, equipment and structures shall not be used to obtain classified information from the Armed Forces,” he said. — with a report from The STAR





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