Senate probe sought into allowing China-backed telco to build cell sites in military camps
This undated photo shows Senator Risa Hontiveros addressing Senate media.
Senate PRIB/Albert Calvelo
Senate probe sought into allowing China-backed telco to build cell sites in military camps
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - September 14, 2020 - 4:36pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday urged the Senate to immediately probe a recently inked deal allowing China-backed Dito Telecommunity Corp. to build cell towers in military camps. 

"Are we allowing ourselves to be occupied? A China-owned telco in our own military camps is very suspicious, especially since China has not stopped its aggressive claims in the West Philippine Sea, its destruction of natural resources, and its abuse of Filipino fishermen," Hontiveros warned in Filipino. 

As early as September 2019, the lawmaker filed Senate Resolution No. 137 which called on the upper chamber to investigate the national security implications of allowing the China-backed telco "to set up equipment and facilities within the military bases of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the country." 

"We, in the Senate, should exercise our oversight powers at once to ensure that our national security is not undermined," Hontiveros urged, citing the public's concern over what she called the sustained interference of China in the country. 

The lawmaker said she would request that the Committee on National Defense hear the resolution in the Senate immediately, adding that she finds it hard to believe that China has no self-interest in building cell sites in the country's military camps. 

"Are there no other cell sites? Why military bases? It's as if the Chinese state itself is present within our military camps. Our national security is at risk here," she said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

Along with Hontiveros, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Francis Pangilinan have raised objections to the deal. 

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro) and Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, have objected to the agreement as well. 

Hontiveros warns: Chinese security laws require corporations to support intelligence-gathering efforts

Hontiveros further cited Article 7 of the Chinese National Intelligence Law which she said obliges Chinese corporations to support intelligence-gathering efforts: "any organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law."

The senator also flagged China's 2014 Counter-Espionage Law which prohibits Chinese corporations from refusing to assist their government in this regard. 

Article 22 of the law says that "when state security organs investigate to learn of espionage conduct or gather relevant evidence, relevant organizations and individuals shall truthfully provide and must not refuse." 

China Telecom Corporation owns 40% of Dito CME while Udenna Corporation and its subsidiary Chelsea Logistics and Infrastructure Holdings Corp. own 35% and 25%, respectively.

Both Udenna and Chelsea Logistics are owned by Filipino-Chinese businessman Dennis Uy, a friend of President Rodrigo Duterte.

"This is already a warning signal, and yet the AFP seems to have forgotten the warning its mother department itself raised last year," Hontiveros said.

Pangilinan made a similar argument last Friday, citing national security concerns previously raised by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., concerning the growing presence of Chinese companies and nationals in the Philippines. 

Lorenzana in August last year flagged the proximity of Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs) to military camps, warning that they might shift their operations to spying. 

Meanwhile, Esperon in July last year said he considered the influx of Chinese nationals in the country as a threat. 

"Our defense officials were already concerned about POGOs being near military bases, shouldn't we be even more concerned about a China-backed telco inside the actual camps? It should have been common sense not to allow this," Hontiveros said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The AFP last Friday downplayed the possibility of a security breach, calling it a "very low" risk. 

Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesman, told CNN Philippines' "The Source" that Lorenzana signed the deal because he was satisfied by the measures instituted by the military "to ensure that national security will be protected." 

"It's a low threat in terms of the raised concerns about spying, concerns about listening devices or eavesdropping. We have studied that," he added in a mix of English and Filipino.

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