MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Grace Poe admitted on Wednesday that she herself was not “100 percent” sure that China-backed Dito Telecommunity could guarantee there would be “no 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.
As chairperson of the Senate public services committee, Poe is tasked with sponsoring in plenary Dito’s franchise bill, which was first approved by the House of Representatives before being transmitted to the upper chamber for consideration.
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. which was granted in 1998 and is set to expire in 2023.
“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 said during Wednesday’s plenary debates on Dito’s franchise renewal.
But she 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,” Poe said.
“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 added.
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.
Dito is owned by Udenna Corp of Davao-based businessman Dennis A. Uy and state-run China Telecom, which has a 40-percent stake in the company.
The telco previously dismissed fears of possible Chinese espionage, stressing that it was a company run by Filipinos.
Unli data in exchange for WPS?
Like Gordon, Sen. Risa Hontiveros 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,” she said in Filipino.
“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 asked.
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.”
The senator also mentioned that even PLDT and Globe use technology from Chinese company Huawei.
“What’s stopping that company from also giving that information to China?” she said.
“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 added.
Before the Senate approved Dito’s franchise renewal on second reading, the chamber adopted an amendment introduced by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
The amendment would mandate Dito to submit a full report to the president and Congress regarding “any form of disclosure of any data or information, assistance, support or cooperation made to a foreign government, its instrumentalities or agents.”
Failure to make such disclosure will be a ground for the revocation of the franchise, according to the amendment.
Senate approves Dito’s franchise on 2nd reading
PLDT, Globe downplay US’ blacklisting of Huawei
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.