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NTC says person responsible for hijacking emergency alerts with Bongbong Marcos ad may be penalized P2,000

By Bim Santos Published Oct 06, 2021 5:27 pm Updated Oct 06, 2021 10:08 pm

The person responsible for sending out emergency alerts that contained an advertisement for the late dictator’s son Bongbong Marcos, who is now running for president after losing in the 2016 vice presidential elections, may be slapped with a P2,000 fine according to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo V. Cabarios told PhilSTAR L!fe that they have already talked about the issue with the telcos and they were told that the message did not come from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Under Section 4 of Republic Act. 10639 or “The Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act,” it is indicated that the alerts shall be sent directly from the relevant government agencies, such as NDRRMC, to the mobile phone subscribers. Cabarios said that telcos have a way of vetting whether the alerts came from the relevant agencies and in this case, it was found out that it did not come from the government.

"Most probably... baka sa portable cell sites galing yan na illegally operated," said Cabarios.

Cabarios said that their regulatory branch is already investigating the issue but said it will be challenging to even identify who was behind the message as setting up the site and dismantling it is relatively quick and easy.

"It is really difficult kasi kung voice 'yan, matagal yan sa ere at puwede ma-track down, pero kung a few seconds or a fraction of a second at tapos na to send then hahabulin mo pa, mahirap," said Cabario. "Identifying them is difficult. It is not impossible but it is difficult."

But if a case is made and the perpetrators are identified and charged, Cabarios said that at most, they may have to pony up P2,000 if they are individuals or P5,000 if it is a corporation for violating the country's radio law or Republic Act No. 584, which is a 1931 law that was amended in 1954. Under the 1931 law, individuals may be penalized P300 at most.

“Illegal operation of a radio station is punishable under the radio control law," said Cabarios.

In a statement, Smart Communications said they did not have a hand in the issue

"We deny our involvement in the said emergency cell broadcast message and have informed NTC accordingly," Smart Communications said in a statement.

L!fe reached out to Globe Telecom but they have yet to issue a statement as of press time.

Photos of the spurious emergency alert message were posted on Twitter by some reporters covering the filing of certificates of candidacy at Sofitel as well as some citizens in the area. The message also contained the candidate's hashtag at the end.

Marcos’s chief of staff Atty. Vic Rodriguez said Marcos' camp supports the swift action of the NTC calling for an investigation.

He added that Marcos and his family received similar alert notifications. “We should not tolerate any group’s 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 also appealed to the people “behind this despicable deed” to “not mess with a functioning government system that is purposely meant to save lives just so you may advance your agenda of derailing the candidacy of BBM.”

NDRRMC, for its part, said in a tweet that the only alerts they issued Oct. 6 were about "rainfall warnings due to the current weather disturbance and nothing else." 

"We are consulting with our TELCO counterparts about this incident and so far, they have informed us that such a message did not come from them. We trust that the National Telecommunications Commission will be looking into this matter." 

It assured the public that they are using warning systems only for "proper and timely warning to our people regarding natural hazards."

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, meanwhile, said in a tweet that “there is no penalty specifically for the use of emergency channels for campaigning - at least not under electoral laws.”

“However, it can be assumed that the emergency alert system operates under guidelines that would prevent the use of the system for non-emergency uses,” Jimenez said.

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares spoke out on Twitter as a principal author of RA 10639.

“As author of the text alerts law, I am concerned about this. Either ginagamit ng BBM camp ang emergency sms facility ng gobyerno or they are misrepresenting as an emergency alert what is clearly a political ad. Nakakadismaya na may ganitong mga kandidato,” said Colmenares.