Lady senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares.
By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares expressed doubts over assurances that there would be no data and security leakages with the entry of the China-backed Dito Telecommunity in the country as a third telco provider.
In a hearing, Poe admitted that she herself was not “100 percent” sure that Dito could guarantee there would be “leakages” amid national security concerns, but she was quick to point out the country’s strict franchise laws could spur the firm to make good on its commitments.
Dito, which was picked as the country’s third telco in 2018, is seeking another 25-year franchise from Congress. It currently holds a congressional franchise via Mindanao Islamic Telephone Co. was granted in 1998 and is set to expire in 2023. The telco is owned by Udenna Corporation of Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy and state-run China Telecom, which has a 40-percent stake in the company.
“I can honestly say that I am not 100 percent sure that they can guarantee that there will be no leakages. Like in any other business, if there’s one that’s really determined to get information, there will always be some flaw in the structure that will compromise that information,” Poe pointed out during plenary debates by the Senate’s public services committee on Dito’s franchise renewal.
The lady senator pointed out that Dito would be motivated to deliver on its commitments as it would want to protect its investments, and to do that, it would have to comply with the guidelines of its franchises.
Poe pointed out to her colleagues that the government has the power to “shut down” the company should it “breach the franchise agreement and compromise our national security and safety.”
“I think the investments that were put in and capitalism at work is a huge motivating factor that if the government deems it necessary to shut down the operations of the business because of national security compromises, that will really put in a tailspin the stock or even the investment value of that company,” she added.
“So it is in the interest of the Filipino board members and owners of Dito to make sure that they are compliant with our laws and the guidelines of the franchise. If not, that can be grounds to cancel their franchise,” she disclosed.
This was Poe’s answer to Sen. Richard Gordon’s question on whether there was a guarantee that Dito’s franchise would be “controlled” by Filipinos as he brought up the possibility of Chinese espionage and surveillance.
The telco previously dismissed fears of possible Chinese espionage, stressing that it was a company run by Filipinos.
Like Gordon, another lady senator also raised concerns over China Telecom’s 40-percent stake in Dito.
“I could ask if it’s okay to get “unli” data in exchange for the West Philippines Sea,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said in the vernacular.
“Yes, more competition is welcome, but let’s keep our eyes open and our guard up. How can Dito assure us that it is not the Chinese government that’s calling the shots?” she queried.
Hontiveros also expressed concern over China’s Espionage Law of 2014 that mandates Chinese companies to cooperate in intelligence gathering and data gathering.
Poe did note that there were three members in Dito’s board representing China Telecom, but she said that the telco had committed that it would prosecute its three Chinese directors “if they comply with the Chinese espionage law.”
She argued that even the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) and Globe Telecom both use technology from Chinese company Huawei.
“What’s stopping that company from also giving that information to China?” Poe asked.
“My assurance is our laws are very strict. If there’s a whiff of interference by a foreign investor, that’s grounds for the cancellation of the franchise,” she concluded. (AI/MTVN)