The recent deal between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Dito Telecommunity, a China-backed telco provider, has become a cause of concern due to the risk of Chinese intrusion in the country’s cyberspace. Although downplayed by the Philippine government, several security experts have warned the current administration about the possible implications of these operations on the country’s national security.
For instance, retired Senior Associate Justice Carpio, at the recent Philippine Bar Association’s “Telco Tales” webinar, questioned the government’s decision to continue its partnership with Dito Telecommunity despite the security risks this posed. In one of his columns, he stated “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. I think it’s a no-brainer.”
There is also a growing concern regarding the connection between China Telecom and the Communist Party of China (CCP). Governments across the region have already blocked telecommunications and technology companies from China. In the United States, several top agencies have recommended the termination of authorizations for China Telecom due to the nature of its operation, which according to them allows the CCP to engage in malicious cyber activities to pursue its interests and expand their influence.
The openness of the Philippines increases its susceptibility to authoritarian influence operations. Weak democratic institutions and poor governance structures allow authoritarian regimes like China to exploit and manipulate vulnerable states. With the current state of the country’s digital infrastructure, the Philippine government must step up and develop its capability to effectively respond to these threats.
With this, the Stratbase ADR Institute calls on the Philippine government to uphold transparency and accountability in its engagements with foreign companies, especially those from authoritarian regimes. The Institute also urge government agencies to strengthen their policy measures to safeguard the country’s national security.
Top priority must be the building of a robust and nationwide digital infrastructure that all sectors now realize as a critical service that must be accessible to all Filipinos. The sudden shift to cloud-based technologies for communications and economic activities will need strategic partnerships between the private sector and government and will be instrumental in recovering from this economic crisis.”
A conducive policy environment that inspires confidence and boosts competitiveness will attract the right kind of investors who have the resources and technology to create long term positive impact to our economy and create the millions of jobs that our people need.
Prof. Dindo Manhit
Stratbase ADR Institute