China-backed telecom firm says won’t spy on Philippines

September 17, 2020 - 8:53 PM
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A woman shields herself from the sun as she walks past an office building of China Telecom, in Beijing, China August 11, 2020. Picture taken August 11, 2020. (Reuters/Tingshu Wang/File Photo/File Photo)

MANILA — A new Philippine telecoms firm with Chinese state investment on Thursday described as “truly misplaced” concerns that communications equipment it will install at military camps will be used for spying.

The Philippine government last week allowed DITO Telecommunity Corp, a joint venture between state-run China Telecom and a tycoon close to President Rodrigo Duterte, to erect towers on military land for its $5.15 billion entry into the market, which includes 5G technology.

The consortium was the only qualified bidder in a 2018 license auction that followed months of Duterte saying he had offered China a spot in the Philippines’ telecom sector. China Telecom owns 40% of DITO.

But some lawmakers complain DITO could be a “Trojan Horse” for spying, including on a military allied with the United States.

“We are not at war with China so this concern about espionage and spying I feel is truly misplaced,” Adel Tamano, a top DITO official, told a news conference.

DITO’s equipment and devices are not a security risk, Tamano said, adding that it is investing heavily in cybersecurity.

No Chinese personnel will be allowed inside camps, he said, and a retired Philippine general and telecoms expert had been hired to ensure cybersecurity.

However, former Supreme Court judge Antonio Carpio, a staunch critic of Duterte’s pro-China stance, in a newspaper column on Thursday said Beijing “would surely eavesdrop”. Opposition lawmaker Risa Hontiveros wants a senate probe on DITO’s military deal.

Like competitors Globe and PLDT, DITO also uses equipment from Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE .

DITO is 60% controlled by Duterte associate Dennis Uy, whose conglomerate Udenna is partnering in big projects with several other Chinese state firms in energy and construction.

Among those is a U.S.-blacklisted company involved in China‘s building of a missile-equipped artificial South China Sea island that the Philippines sees as a national security threat. Udenna has acknowledged its Chinese partner’s involvement. —Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty