Group alarmed at govt decision to suspend cell signal

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(UPDATED) Open cellphone lines would in fact enable citizens to respond to terror threats, group says


MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED as of 12:50 p.m.) – A consumer group on Monday raised alarm over the government’s unprecedented decision to suspend cellphone services within the Quiapo district to secure devotees of the Black Nazarene.

“We view with alarm the decision of the Aquino government to suspend vital cellphone services at Quiapo district in downtown Manila, purportedly to help thwart alleged terror threats,” said TXTPower on its Twitter account.

“We join the people of Quiapo in celebrating their annual fiesta, and we hope this will be the first and last time that they will be cut off from the rest of the country and the world,” the advocacy group added.

Malacañang on Monday confirmed it had asked the three top telecommunication providers — PLDT, Globe Telecom, and Digitel — to temporarily suspend cellphone services at the Quiapo district. Press Undersecretary Abigail Valte said this was a result of a supposed agreement with telcos on Sunday, January 8, when President Benigno Aquino III announced a terror threat aimed at disrupting the Black Nazarene procession.

No text, calls

This is the first time telecommunication firms in the Philippines were asked by the government to suspend cellular services in Metro Manila over security reasons.

The affected areas include Quiapo, the areas near US Embassy, Manila Hotel, Manila Ocean Park, Ermita, and Malate, according to a telco official who asked not to be named.

Loss of cellular signal started at 4 a.m. on Monday. An official of one of the telco firms said they will wait for the go-signal from the government to resume cellular services.

The firms suspended their 2G and 3G services, resulting in signal loss of voice and text services. Broadband and other landline-based services, however, will not be affected.”

In a statement on Monday, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT), the industry leader, said that based on the security briefing by the government, they are “fully cooperating in order to address the situation.”

They added that they have agreed to “take certain precautionary measures to enhance public safety in and around the procession areas.” 

Meantime, rival Globe Telecom said they agreed to temporarily cut mobile phone services but broadband connections remain.

“It’s in line with the national security measures of the government during the Black Nazarene procession,” the Ayala-led telco firm said.

Terror threats

Various intelligence sources said the threat remains unverified. Intelligence units conducted raids over the weekend, but all these yielded negative results, the same sources added.

The TXTPower said: “Keeping all public communication outlets, especially cellphone services, open is the public’s and the government’s sounding board against any alleged terror threats. Open cellphone lines would enable citizens to respond to President Aquino’s call for reports of suspicious persons and groups. It is also vital to media, whose profession relies heavily on cellphone services, to report to the public and to both private and public security personnel.” –

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