Gov’t says 911 hotline charges to stay during transition period

Chris Schnabel
Gov’t says 911 hotline charges to stay during transition period
While the President wants 911 emergency calls to be free, the DILG says fees would be charged during the transition period to the new system

MANILA, Philippines – The government has addressed issues surrounding the upcoming 911 hotline, following criticism from some sectors over plans to charge an additional fee for calls made to the emergency hotline.

While the government said it wants the service to be free for citizens, it will have to work out a new deal with private telcos and pass through legal hurdles before that can happen.

In a briefing paper circulated by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in a meeting with telcos on Friday, July 29, the agency reiterated that President Rodrigo Duterte has directed the DILG, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to designate the number 911 as the new nationwide Emergency Hotline Number starting August 1.

The paper stated that it is also “the wish of the President to make the ‘911’ emergency calls free to the public.”

The new emergency hotline will replace the current 117 number, which is under the administration of the Patrol 117 Commission as mandated by Executive Order 226 in 2003. 

But the pending change caused some controversy earlier this week when Globe Telecom announced that it would charge P5 on top of the regular voice charges for their subscribers calling the 911 hotline. (READ: Heeding gov’t, Globe to charge P5 for 911 calls)

Transition period

According to the briefing paper signed by DILG Secretary Ismael Sueno and Undersecretary Jesus Hinlo, a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to effect the change to the new number by August 1 was entered into by the DILG, DICT, NTC, and other government branches, as well as private telcos including Globe Telecom and PLDT.

The MOA stated that the parties agreed to prepare the transition from the 117 system to the 911 system “together with new terms and conditions to be adopted for implementation.”

The transition period is set to begin on August 1, during which the public can call either number “pending the finality of the 911 system as agreed by all stakeholders.”

The DILG did not indicate, however, when the transition period would end.

Instead, it only said that the parties would recommend to the President the issuance of a new executive order (EO) transferring the authority of the 117 Commission to a new legal entity to handle the new 911 system.

It also pointed out that during the transition period, “the government should inform the public that the existing fee charges will still be continued during the transition stage pending the issuance of a new EO on the 911 system with implementing rules and a MOA between the Philippine government and Philippine Telcos on the subject of Call Charges.”

The existing charges are “a P5 flat rate plus VAT [value-added tax] for both fixed line and mobile calls and applicable voice call rates for mobile calls,” PLDT and Smart public affairs head Mon Isberto said in a text message to Rappler.

Isberto stressed that these charges are part of the existing legal framework under the current EO and as such must be addressed through the proper legal means.

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios previously told Rappler that under the existing EO, the charges will go to the maintenance of the department’s command or contact center.

The DILG said government agencies are still studying the input of telcos on the drafting of the new EO. Upon completion, the draft will be submitted to Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco, although no timeframe has been given.

It also pointed out that effective August 1, telephone operators for the new 911 system will be increased from 15 to 30 seats in a mirror call center setup in Cebu.

By August 15, it said, the number of telephone operators will be increased from 15 to 45 seats, working 24/7 operations.

Isberto, for his part, said that the 117 number will be kept until further notice for citizens to call so as to ensure that nobody will be caught unaware of the change during an emergency. – Rappler.com

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