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NTC Probes Use Of Emergency Alert For Bongbong’s Campaign

NTC Probes Use Of Emergency Alert For Bongbong’s Campaign
An emergency alert shows a message of support for former senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. received by people at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila hotel after he filed his certificate candidacy on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. The Marcos camp described it as sabotage. Photo by Russell Palma, The Philippine STAR

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is investigating the “emergency” text blasts received by phone users on Wednesday, Oct. 6, which promoted the presidential bid of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., a few hours after he filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) at the Harbor Garden Tent at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila in Pasay City.

 

 NTC deputy commissioner Edgardo Cabarios said his agency had coordinated with telecommunication companies (telcos) after being informed of the text alerts. “The telcos said the NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) did not issue such alerts,” Cabarios said in a phone interview. “Most probably, but we are not yet concluding, it came from portable cell sites. Most probably, those were illegally acquired.”

 

 Cabarios said portable cell sites are used during emergencies, disasters or when communications are down to send important and urgent information through text messages, adding that only the NDRRMC or authorized agencies are allowed to acquire portable cell sites.

“You cannot buy, sell or use these portable cell sites, except the NDDRMC and other agencies. These should only be used during emergencies. If there is no emergency and you use it, even though the way you acquired it is legal, then that will still be considered as illegal operations,” he said.

Cabarios, however, admitted that it would be difficult to track the location of the portable sites, and the agency should come up with recommendations and seek the assistance of law enforcement agencies to track them down.

NDRRMC spokesman Mark Timbal stressed that the agency’s use of the emergency mobile alerts system only follows the prescription of Republic Act No. 10639 or the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Law, which requires that warning messages must be hazard-specific, time-bound and area-specific.

Militant lawmakers have also called for an investigation on the use of the emergency alert system. The group, led by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, urged the NTC and Department of Information and Communications Technology (DITC) to investigate and explain how the Marcos campaign was able to “hijack the emergency alerts frequency.”

The alert message read: “Buong Buo ang Malaasakit sa Bansa. Buong Buhay ang Maialay sa taong bayan. Bagong Bukas a Masagana para sa masa. BaBangon Muli ang Pilipinas (V) BBM sa bansa, BBM sa taong bayan, BBM sa Masa. BBM Pilipinas!!! #BBM2022.”

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) urged aspiring candidates in the May 2022 national and local elections not to use the country’s “emergency alert system” in their campaign as it is a national warning system employed for urgent information.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told reporters in a Viber message that there is no penalty for aspiring candidates using the alert system, but such use is ill advised.

Sabotage?

Marcos’ camp decried what it claimed as an early campaign sabotage.?Vic Rodriguez, Marcos’ chief of staff, welcomed the NTC’s move to investigate the matter.

“The illegal use of the emergency blast was done at a time when Bongbong Marcos was filing his COC and is viewed as among the many demolition jobs unleashed by those who obviously want to frustrate his candidacy,” he said in a statement last night.

Rodriguez said Marcos and his family also received the alert notifications.

“We should not tolerate any group or groups’ underhanded moves to trivialize this very special tool meant to forewarn every single Filipino of an impending, actual or post-disaster event or scenario,” he lamented.

Rodriguez believes that those with “agenda of derailing the candidacy of Marcos could be behind this despicable deed.” – With Robertzon Ramirez, Michael Punongbayan, Edu Punay, Ralph Edwin Villanueva, Elizabeth Marcelo