Senate supports bill on free text alerts during disasters

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014


SENATE President Franklin Drilon on Wednesday said the chamber's leadership expressed its support of a bill that will legally compel telephone companies to disseminate early warnings of disasters, at no added cost to the consumer or the government.

The Senate committee on public services chaired by Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. favorably endorsed House Bill (HB) 353 with some amendments introduced by the Senate President.

Drilon said the passage of HB 353, which mandates telecommunication companies (Telcos) to send free mobile alerts in the event of natural and man-made disasters and calamities "would help achieve the main objectives of disaster preparedness which are to lessen the impact of the typhoon and ultimately save lives."

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In his amendments, Drilon sought to penalize any telephone company, which will fail or refuse to send out warning alerts, with a fine of P1 million to P10 million, or a revocation of its legislative franchise.

"Having been ranked as the third most disaster-prone country in the world, it is imperative for the Philippines to put up a mechanism to efficiently disseminate early warnings of typhoons," said Drilon.

In 2013, the 2012 World Disaster Report placed the Philippines third among all countries, which recorded the highest exposure to natural calamities.

The Senate leader said the government should be able to employ the most efficient and fastest way in sending out alerts in the event of an impending calamity such as a tropical storm, tsunami or earthquake.

Under the bill, the alerts shall consist of updated information from the relevant agencies, and shall be sent directly to the mobile phone subscribers located near and within the affected areas.

He said sending out alerts through mobile phones could be the most efficient tool given the fact that the Philippines recorded the highest number of cellular phone users in the world.

According to Business Monitor International (BMI) study, the Philippines is expected to reach 117 million mobile subscribers by 2016, noted Drilon.

"As the texting capital of the world, we can greatly use the instantaneous, flexible and reliable short message service (SMS) technology as a potent tool during disaster situations - one that is intimately understood and easily accessed by millions of Filipinos who have cellphones," said Drilon.

Lastly, Drilon lauded the telecommunication companies for being cooperative towards the passage of the bill.

He said Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba of the National Telecommunications Commission said during the committee hearing that the proposed measure sits well with the telephone companies, as sending out text message disaster alerts does not require additional costs on their operations. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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