The Multinational Monitor


N E W S   M O N I T O R

Philippine Information System Geared Toward Multinationals and Security

by Gerald Sussman

In an address to corporate leaders of the telecommunications industry in Boston last month, Karl Meyer, chief economist for the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (ITT), claimed that new communication technologies in the Third World are being "set up to serve domestic demand."

But in the Philippines, where multinational corporations have a particularly cozy relationship with the country's head of state, Ferdinand Marcos, giants like ITT and Nippon Electric have set up telephone systems and satellite stations that go far beyond "domestic demand." These systems, in fact, are just a minor part of a communications/information network established by telecommunications companies throughout the Third World to serve their own needs - and the demands of the U.S. military.

The arrival of high-speed data transmission, satellite broadcasting and computer - based voice circuitry in the Philippines represents the commercial side of a technology born of more violent considerations a decade earlier in nearby Indochina.

In 1967, the same year that Marcos' media frontman, Robert Benedicto, bought out the only TV network in the Philippines, Marcos granted the U.S. Defense Communications Agency an Intelsat communication satellite receiving station outside of Manila. This station was part of the U.S. "electronic battlefield" strategy designed to improve U.S. military base communications in the war against the region's revolutionary movements.

To accommodate the defense agency, Marcos created a "local" management firm, the Philippine Overseas Telecommunication Corporation (POTC), with Benedicto and other trusted cronies as its board of directors. But the real managers of POTC were a handful of American and Canadian corporate executives and American military commanders brought in to create the security-oriented communications system. The unanticipated outcome of the Indochina conflict brought their stay to a quick end, but before pulling out of POTC, they succeeded in leasing 30 of the 40 satellite circuits to the U.S. military. The group also designed a national telecommunications system for the Philippines that was hooked up in 1979 to the Indonesian satellite system built by Hughes Aircraft.

Today the Philippine domestic satellite system, "Domsat," has 11 earth stations located in strategic points of the archipelago. One of the stations is a compact, mobile unit that can be boarded on a helicopter, which allows the Philippine armed forces to have instant radio communications with and military troops engaged in fighting with the insurgent Moro National Liberation Front or the communist New People's Army. To oversee the national communications network, Marcos installed a direct Domsat TV/radio hookup to the presidential palace together with a U.S.-supplied telephone hotline. This hotline was used to coordinate the 1972 martial law takeover, and the TV/radio hookup allows Marcos to preempt broadcasting anytime - as he frequently does.

Major corporations from England, Germany, the U.S., and Japan have taken advantage of Marcos's laws to establish telecommunications networks in the Philippines.

The British international telecommunication giant Cable & Wireless has formed a "joint venture" common carrier (message delivery) and carrier's carrier (submarine cable equipment) partnership with the Benedicto group. RCA Global Communications and ITT World Communications have established similar arrangements, respectively, with Marcos's defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, and with the country's most financially extended family business group, the Ayala-Zobels. The Japanese company

Nippon Electric provided the $30 million set of Domsat earth stations, and Japanese consultants have exploratory plans underway to set up telecommunication interconnections in conjunction with World Bank-sponsored electrification projects in the north provinces.

The biggest plum has gone to the West German telecommunications rival of ITT, the Siemans Corporation. In 1978, Siemens put together an eight-year, $870 million package for the private Philippine Long Distance Telephone company, introducing an all-digital switching and dialing telephone system for the metropolitan Manila area where 76 percent of the country's telephones are concentrated.

The users of these telecommunications links, including the sponsors of the broadcast media, are dominated not by Philippine businesses but by multinational corporations and banks. The Philippine satellite systems' only major customers are the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company and the Benedicto television chain. International banking, industrial and trading firms, and the U.S. government use the telephone company's services, and companies such as Unilever, Proctor and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Nestle, PepsiCo, and Johnson and Johnson are major television advertisers; some 75 percent of airtime is purchased by corporations. More than half of Philippine television shows are canned American reruns like "Charley's Angels," "S.W.A.T.," and "The 700 Club."

Even the Marcos government's own radio station, the "Voice of the Philippines," relies on American entertainment. Responsible for broadcasting the nation's culture overseas, the network runs a canned format of American "easy listening" music imported from the Kala Music Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

However, the largest single user of Philippines telecommunications is the U.S. military, which has massive installations at Clark Air Base and Subic Naval bases. The Philippines also performs strategic regional communication functions for the U.S., hosting the U.S. San Miguel Communications Center, which is involved in nuclear war planning, the Southeast Asian headquarters of the CIA, and the Chinabeamed transmitters of the Voice of America.

The ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor in the Philippines has proven fertile to the expansion of the New People's Army and the Muslim-led resistance in the island of Mindanao. Here again, advanced communication technology will be the government's key instrument in attempting to maintain the status quo. The Philippines is the largest Asia/Pacific member group of the U.S.-based Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, a worldwide organization that brings together defense communication representatives of the militaryindustrial complex. According to a document from the association's Philippine chapter, the country's present defense communication network is being replaced with new electronic switching facilities, and ten Philippine armed forces officers and enlistees have been trained by Rockwell International "in connection with the acquisition of digital equipment for the Mindanao Microwave System."

Marcos runs his dictatorship under the pretense of "nationalism" while giving preference to foreign interests in establishing the country's economy. Unwilling to suffer minor challenges to the nationalistic image he tries to project, Marcos recently closed down the major opposition newspaper for planning to run a series documeniing Marcos's dubious war record and medals. It seems that a token concession to the opposition press by his authoritarian information order is too great a gamble.

Gerald Sussman visited the Philippines in 1980. This report is drawn from his recently completed Ph.D. dissertation in political science at the University of Hawaii.

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