ChinaTel disenfranchisement in the making?

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

Just two cases of Dito Telecommunity being turned down by owners of targeted cell sites indicate the problems plaguing Dito Telecommunity and partner ChinaTel to meet its commitment to the government — both executive and legislative branches — to be operational, previously at first, by September of 2019 and now, by July of 2020.

Requesting to remain anonymous, one party being offered to lease their property by Dito at PhP20,000 per month did not accept the offer because “they refused to deal with the Chinese”.

Another whom Dito talked to, reportedly along with ZTE, stated that with the hassle involved in putting up the facility and its possible health impact on the condominium’s dwellers is not worth the PhP30,000 being offered.

But notwithstanding actual cases where Dito was unsuccessful in obtaining cells sites through property owners, then Senator Francis G. Escudero foresaw these challenges affecting Dito early on, saying that “if you’re lucky, it takes long to negotiate with the owner of the land, to get local permits and six to eighteen months to put up a tower.”

It seems that with the foregoing, Dito will not be able to fulfill its commitment to serve 37% of the population even by the end of this year.

Compounding the problem of being unable to build up 2,500 cell sites — say, even by the end of the year — is Dito’s financial burden which disables it to provide the budgets necessary for not only starting up the third telco business but sustaining its viability. It was reported that this early, Dito’s Dennis Uy is seeking government guarantees on new loans to unburden his Php16 Billion debt that forces him to resort to short-term financing, for instance, to capitalize the requirements of his over-expanded ventures, as in the case of his Chelsea Logistics and Infrastructure Corporation.

Dennis Uy’s Udenna conglomerate’s debt jumped by over 200% to Php104 Billion last 2017 from just Php34 Billion the previous year. It does not take much to realize that the Php104 Billion loss cannot match the Php257 Billion capex required for the third telco infrastructure in five years, considering that Php150 Billion or half of that capex was promised by the joint venture to have spent by 2019, last year.

A third issue that compromises Dito’s positioning to take off by July 2020 is its unresolved security risks due to its partnership with state-owned ChinaTel.  As Senator Francis Pangilinan has pointed out time and again, all state-owned Chinese businesses are mandated to cooperate with Beijing to “support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work” as required by China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017.

Filipinos, especially those living in the area of military camps where ChinaTel is allowed to build their communications facilities, are in danger of their data privacy and cybersecurity being violated.

One delay looming for Dito’s claim of unhampered program is the US’s possible move to ban the HongKong-Los Angeles undersea cable link which involves Chinese partners like Huawei.  Dito is allegedly going to be a part of this link which is vital for building and fostering its international  communications network.

The abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which is bound to affect the Mutual Defense Pact and the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement.  The fact that EDCA is bent on supporting the Philippines against China’s military build-up in the South China Sea areas, a ChinaTel consortium with a budding Philippine third telco player will be caught in the midst of geopolitical infighting.

It stands to reason that ultimately, the Filipinos are bound to suffer — not only from an overdue third telco start-up of its operation but also from its eventual loss of its security and freedoms.

Virtually, Dito’s disenfranchisement is already happening through its own doing.