Senators are wary and worried about the entry of State-owned China Telecom into the country’s telecommunications industry as partner of Mindanao Islamic Telephone Company Inc. (Mislatel), the newly awarded third telco franchise.
The fear is anchored on China Telecom’s possible control of Mislatel, the company that bagged the contract to be the country’s third telecommunications company.
Mislatel’s entry is aimed at boosting the Internet service in the country now served lackadaisically by Globe Telecoms and Smart-Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT). The current service made the entry of a third telco player an imperative.
However, this does not mean the country should not exercise prudence in vetting the third telco player considering that telecommunications is imbued with national security concerns.
It is in fact mandatory for the government through the Department of Information and Communications Technology, National Telecommunications Commission and the national security apparatus of the State to work hand in hand in ensuring that the fears of the senators will not come into fruition.
China Telecoms, being a State-owned entity, is feared by the senators will have total control of Mislatel, a consortium where it owns 40 percent stake as provided for under the Philippine Constitution together with Udenna Corp., 35 percent, and its subsidiary Chelsea Logistics, 25 percent. Both local companies are owned by Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy.
During a Senate hearing, senators pointed out that China Telecom could become the source of capital for the two other local partners through loans. This would then defeat the purpose of the constitutional requirement prohibiting foreign companies from owning more than 40 percent stake in companies doing business in the country.
Other fears cited were on the possibility of a security breach since China Telecom is a foreign entity owned by a foreign country. The senators posed the view that this corporate linkage of China Telecom is a national security threat in itself to the country. Cited was the incident where Internet traffic was hijacked by China Telecom and rerouted traffic directed to South America, Milan and Japan through different servers.
But an official of the group democracy.net.ph assured the senators there was no hijacking that happened perpetrated by China Telecom for reportedly it was just an error by a firm from Nigeria that resulted in a misrouting to China.
The senators could not be faulted for their misgivings about China Telecom’s becoming a major partner in the Mislatel consortium. They are simply exercising their legislative oversight powers. But such misgivings should not stop the government from pursing a laudable program that’ll improve Internet service in the country.
Internet users are exasperated at the kind of service they have been getting from the two service providers. Undeniably, current service leaves so much to be desired. To block the entry of a third telco player is just like saying we don’t want to partake of today’s modern Internet technology for we are enjoying the archaic service we are currently getting.
We are certain that any loophole that could give rise to the possibility of a breach as feared by the senators can be plugged even before it happens. And if it happens, God forbid, it happened because it was allowed to happen. It is as simple as that.
The fear could not be anchored on China Telecom being a Chinese firm. It is allowing the corruption of the people tasked at ensuring that no such breach would ever happen that is more fearsome. Considering that President Duterte had been firing top ranking officials in his administration because of corruption, it is not far-fetched that corruption will indeed happen in this regard unless vigilance is exercised.
Who could forget the ZTE national broadband fiasco that led to that project’s cancellation when the stench of corruption that attended its award to the Chinese firm could no longer be contained? We should not speculate that something negative will happen in this transaction. But we can prevent any untoward thing from marring the project.
The reality is that China looms large in the world today. That country could be a boon or bane to any country it will have deals with. But China’s role largely depends on the country it is dealing with. What is important is that this Internet project succeeds with its triumph founded on the tenet that it should serve the best interest of the country.