Telcos to Poe: We only transmit the messages from NDRRMC

MANILA, Philippines – Telcos Globe and Smart denied they failed to send out disaster text alerts for recent typhoons that hit the country, as alleged by Senator Grace Poe.

Telcos, under Republic Act (RA) No. 10639 or the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act, are required to send out advisories, alerts, and other vital information during typhoons or other disasters. Failure to do so may merit legal action and fines.

Poe, in a radio interview on Sunday, October 23, said the telcos failed to send enough of these disaster alerts, specifically in Metro Manila. The region had been placed under a storm warning signal at several points during Typhoon Karen (Sarika) and Super Typhoon Lawin (Haima). But according to Poe, despite strong cellphone signals in Metro Manila, "no text alerts were actually received by many citizens."

Globe and Smart have both issued statements saying that they did transmit disaster alerts during Super Typhoon Lawin. 

Globe said it sent a total of 11 text messages, 9 of which were directed to customers in Northern Luzon prior to Lawin's landfall while 2 were released after the landfall.

Globe's first text was sent out at around 11:29 am on Wednesday, October 19, to more than 1.5 million mobile numbers. The last alert reached 3.5 million customers at around 8:15 am, Thursday, October 20, Globe said. Lawin made landfall 11 pm, Wednesday, and exited on Thursday, 5 pm.

Smart, in a separate statement, said that it also sent out the same number of SMS alerts. 

The alerts were directed to subscribers in Northern Luzon, including Cagayan, Isabela, Apayao, Abra, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Mt Province, Kalinga, Ifugao, and the Calayan Group of Islands.

Metro Manila

Poe said there's no excuse for telcos to fail to send disaster alerts in Metro Manila. 

"Kung anu-ano ang mga promo na natatanggap natin. Kung kaya naman – wala namang duda na kaya, maaaring dun sa ibang lugar may excuse pa silang sabihin na ang signal ay masama kaya naman pinapalawig natin ang emergency powers kung saka-sakaling makasama 'yung pagpapatayo ng mas maraming cell sites. Pero dito sa Metro Manila, parang walang excuse na hindi natin matanggap. Ako hindi ko natanggap mismo," she said.

(We receive all sorts of promos [from telcos]. There's no doubt they can [send out messages]. In other places they still have the excuse of saying that the signal is bad. This is also why we're expanding emergency powers to maybe include the construction of many more cell sites. But here in Metro Manila, there's no excuse to not receive [the disaster alerts]. I, myself, didn't receive [the alerts].)

Globe confirmed it didn't send alerts to customers in Metro Manila. But both Globe and Smart explained that it's because they do not craft the messages; that's done by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). They said they only serve as a conduit of these SMS alerts from the disaster management council. 

"These SMS alerts were written by the NDRRMC and could [be] transmitted only upon their instructions," added Smart. 

The telcos' statements imply that the NDRRMC did not craft messages specifically for Metro Manila, the messages that Poe felt were missing. 

Friendly reminder

The senator, however, noted that the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act is fairly new.

"Alam natin na bago pa lang ito, siguro ngayon pa lang talaga nasasanay ang ating mga telcos kaya lang pinapaalala nga natin na kailangan ang text alerts kung magkakaroon ng bagyo," Poe said.

(We know it's still new; telcos are only getting used to it now, that's why we're reminding them that text alerts are needed when a storm arises.)

RA No. 10639 was approved on June 20, 2014. Click here to read it in full, as published on gov.ph.  Rappler.com

Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.

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