Bill seeking text alerts during calamities approved

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 14 2014 10:11 AM | Updated as of Feb 14 2014 06:11 PM

MANILA - The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading a bill requiring mobile phone service providers to issue text alerts during man-made and natural calamities.

Bill 353, authored principally by Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, now goes to the Senate.

The two lawmakers said the country is struck by at least 19 typhoons every year, leaving scores dead and hundreds of millions, if not billions, worth of property destroyed or damaged.

“Many victims blame the government’s lack of proper response to the situation. Often, the victims are caught unaware as they are not fully informed of the disaster looming in their midst,” they said.

“Modern notification systems, such as mobile phone alerts, can be used to augment the existing and inefficient system. The ubiquity of mobile phones should be maximized to send out emergency alerts, at no cost to consumers,” they said.

Under the measure, mobile phone alerts such as text messages would be sent by providers at regular intervals as required by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, and other relevant agencies.

The alerts should contain up-to-date information from these agencies, contact numbers of local government units and agencies required to respond to the situation, evacuation areas, relief sites and pick-up points.

Telecommunications providers would bear the cost of such messages, which would be treated as part of their public service.

Bill 353 provides penalties for violators. Any person who gives false or misleading information would face imprisonment of two months to six months and a fine of P1,000 to P10,000.

If the offender is a corporation, the penalties might range from a fine of P1 million to P10 million, suspension or revocation of license, or both.

If the violator is an alien, he would be deported after suffering penalties and would be banned from entering the country again.

Proceeds from fines would go to the national treasury.

The Department of Transportation and Communications, National Telecommunications Commission and other relevant agencies would jointly issue implementing rules.

The committee on information and communications technology, chaired by Rizal Rep. Joel Roy Duavit, endorsed the bill.