Hontiveros flags DND’s P500M pitch for cybersecurity, says AFP-DITO deal undermines budget request

“You want to talk business? Well, this is poor business sense,” Senator Risa Hontiveros declared as the Department of Defense proposed a P500 million cybersecurity budget for 2021 supposedly to repel potential cyberattacks by foreign entities.

“May nagwawagayway na red flag sa kasunduan ng Armed Forces at ng China-owned Dito telco pero nagbubulagbulagan yata ang DND. Baka maubos lang ang buong P500 million na hinihingi nila dahil nilalabanan ang mga cyberattacks ng Tsina na kung tutuusin, pwede namang, at the onset, ipagbawal na agad sila sa loob ng mga kampo natin,” the senator added, as she called out the ongoing courtship dance between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Dito Telecommunity Corporation.

Dito was recently allowed to install cell sites inside the AFP’s military grounds. “Be circumspect. Isn’t it foolish to allow a foreign entity, one with which we have territorial disputes, to put up a telco inside our military camps and then eventually spend for their potential cyberattacks?” the senator said.

Hontiveros also recalled that two months ago, Taiwan warned its citizens of the “omnipresent infiltration” of Beijing-backed cyberattacks, as China considers Taiwan its territory.

The senator also said that Taiwan’s cybersecurity bureau divulged that China tried to acquire their government data and documents.

“Hindi malayong mangyari rin sa atin ito lalo na at patuloy na inaangkin ng Tsina ang ating mga teritoryo sa West Philippine Sea. Madali din nila itong magagawa sa atin given that our cyber system has been proven vulnerable,” Hontiveros said, citing reports on the 2019 hacking incident in which the AFP’s database — including the information, injuries, and missions of 20,000 soldiers — was exposed.

“China Tel, one of Dito’s investors, is 100% owned by China. Hindi ito panghihimasok lang ng isang ordinaryong kumpanya. Panghihimasok ito ng Chinese Communist Party, ang Politburo nila mismo. The security threat is so obvious that it is rather naive to diminish this concern,” Hontiveros said, strongly contesting DND’s statement that China’s stake in Dito is ‘immaterial.’

In 2019, Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution No. 137, which seeks to probe the AFP-Dito deal.

About a month ago, the senator also urged the Senate Committee on National Defense to hear the resolution immediately.

“Bakit minamaliit nanaman ang banta ng Tsina sa loob mismo ng mga kampo? Wala bang planong tumindig ang DND laban sa Tsina? Kahit ang pagdepensa sa West Philippine Sea, ipinauubaya na lamang sa Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Diplomacy is always the best option but the DND must prepare our capacity to repel attacks on all fronts — be it in our waters, on land, in the air, or even in our cyberspaces,” Hontiveros concluded.