HOWIE SEE IT: Connectivity or national security

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

Dito Telecommunity (DITO) is a consortium led by Davao City businessman Dennis Uy and China Telecommunications Corporation, 40% of which is owned by the latter. On Tuesday (September 8), a MOA was entered into between the AFP through Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and DITO, allowing DITO to construct cell towers in our military camps despite security concerns.

It is worthy to note that China has been encroaching on the West Philippine Sea and disallowing Filipino fishermen access therefrom. The construction of cell towers by DITO, 40% of which is owned by China Telecommunications Corporation, a state-owned telecommunications enterprise in China, poses serious threats to our national security.

The prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people. Article 2, Section 5 of the Constitution provides that the protection of life, liberty, and property, and promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by the people of the blessings of democracy.

The National Security Policy of 2017-2022 (NSP 2017-2022) was enacted pursuant to the constitutional mandate to serve and protect the people. One of the rationales behind its enactment is the undeniable fact that our economic prosperity is largely dependent on our national security. In the words of the President delivered during his first SONA, “there can never be real, tangible and felt development without making our people feel secure.” The NSP 2017-2022 defines national security as a state or condition wherein the people’s welfare, well-being, ways of life; government and its institutions; territorial integrity, sovereignty; and core values are enhanced and protected. Our national security is secured on three major pillars, one of which is ensuring the security of the state and preserving and protecting its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and institutions.

Defense Secretary Lorenzana said that DITO would be allowed to construct cell towers only in military camps where Globe and Smart have cell towers. It is worthy to note that although Globe and Smart have cell towers inside military camps, these companies are 100% Filipino owned. While 40% of DITO is owned by China Telecommunications Corporation.

There should be no room for error or any chance of security breach, especially in our military camps. As clearly stated by retired Senior Associate Justice Carpio:
“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. Because it’s like allowing China to put a listening device in your conference room used by your commanders.”

The AFP maintains that the construction of cell towers in military camps would not harm our national security and it will have more gains than risks. But the real question is, do the gains outweigh the risks posed by this deal? The fact that the AFP had to place safeguards to prevent a possible breach of security is a red flag that should have blocked the deal from its inception. Although the AFP described the threat to be “low”, a threat is still a threat. And a threat to the national security is a threat to all Filipino people. The country is not technologically equipped to bar all possible spying. A close reading of the constitution shows the intention of the constitutional commission for zero tolerance over any and all threats to the national security.

These factors bring us back to the same conclusion that we have to reconsider the approval of the construction by DITO of cell towers in military camps.

Another threat to national security is the construction of the P500B airport on Sangley Point by MacroAsia Corporation and China Communications Construction Corporation (CCCC). The construction of the airport could possibly lead to the displacement of our current naval base stationed in the area. The resulting effect of which leaves the strategic location which is only 10 kilometers away from Manila, unmanned and unguarded. The fact alone that CCCC is one of the 24 Chinese firms blacklisted by the United States Commerce Department for building artificial islands in the South China Sea, should have been considered an alarming threat to our national security and should have blocked the deal from its inception.

This is not to say that foreign investments are not welcome in the country. On the contrary, legitimate Chinese investments similar to any foreign investments which do not pose any threat to our national security are very much welcome. We are not against foreign investments, but there is no reason why we should permit foreign investments to intrude and get in our vital and sensitive areas.

In our effort to seek for better connectivity and to ease the congestion in NAIA, we should not sacrifice our national security and interest. At this time of pandemic, we do not need more distractions. Rather, we need to focus on better government response to the needs of the people.