THE newest player in the telecommunications industry, China-backed Dito Telecommunity Company, has secured a special permit from the Cebu City Council to build five cell site towers in the city. Globe also secured approval for one tower while action on a similar application from Smart was deferred pending submission of some requirements.
Cebu City Councilor Eugenio Gabuya Jr. questioned the approval, according to SunStar Cebu, because the barangays where the cell sites will be located have not been consulted. Another councilor, Raymund Garcia, however replied that the grant was done in accordance with a memorandum from the Department of the Interior and Local Government, implying that consultations are no longer necessary under the new order.
Garcia may be right. Under Republc Act 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, requirements to secure permits and clearances for the establishment of telecommunications and internet infrastructure are temporarily suspended for a period of three years. The suspension, according to the law, is intended to “address the need for digital connectivity, internet speed and stability and online learning.”
The only permit that the telecom companies have to secure under the new law is a building permit but even that has been watered down because the law says that all pending and new applications for cell sites and similar structures shall be approved within a non-extendible period of seven working days from the date the application was received, otherwise the same shall be deemed approved.
To residents of Calvary Hill in sitio Apas, the law can be no more oppressive. For several years, they have fought attempts to erect more cell sites in their neighborhood, claiming that the radiation that the sites emitted were cancer-causing. Their struggle went as far as City Hall many years ago but the last time I heard, at least two cell sites are still there.
What is even more distressing is that objectors like the Calvary Hill people can no longer seek judicial intervention to stop the construction of the towers. RA 11494 expressly prohibits that. It says, “(n)o court, except the Supreme Court, shall issue any temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction or preliminary mandatory injunction against the construction of telecommunications infrastructure, including cell sites and cell towers.”
If it’s any consolation, the law is valid up to December 19, 2020 only although I am not sure if the ban on resort to the lower courts is also included in the three-year time frame.
Besides, even if the power to issue TROs and injunctions is restored to the lower courts, of what benefit can it be for residents of areas where the cell sites have been constructed without prior consultations? A TRO or an injunction would be useless as it cannot prevent an act that has already been done or completed.
Well, here’s something that they can do. Pound their breast, look up to the heavens and pray for deliverance. If that doesn’t work, they can always write down the names of the legislators who voted for the law so that they can remember them on election day.