Welcome to China? PLDT says cell tower in Pag-asa needs repair

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 10 2020 01:48 PM | Updated as of Jun 10 2020 03:26 PM

Ships dock on Pag-Asa Island, as beaching ramp inaugurated. Department of National Defense PAS via AP

MANILA -- (Update) PLDT Inc said Wednesday its cell tower on the largest Filipino-occupied island in the West Philippine Sea is down, after journalists covering the area received roaming alerts from Chinese and Vietnamese carriers.

Manila, Beijing and Hanoi have overlapping claims in the resource rich waters that has become a potential security flashpoint. Filipino officials brought journalists to Pag-asa (Thitu) Island on Tuesday to showcase a newly-built docking facility.

Chinese and Vietnamese have established cell signals in the area even before PLDT Inc built facilities there 10 years ago, its Public Affairs head Ramon Isberto told ABS-CBN News.

"I don’t know exactly how they’re doing it, but there are technical things that can be done. The fact of the matter is those cellular operators have a signal in that area," Isberto said.

PLDT aims to restore its signal on Pag-asa by the end of the week, he said. The tower malfunctioned just before the coronavirus lockdown and restrictions made it difficult to reach the island for repairs, he said.

ABS-CBN News crew subscribed to PLDT rival Globe Telecom received a roaming alert that read, "Welcome to China" during the military visit Tuesday.

Globe has not responded to ABS-CBN News' request for comment.

Roaming happens when a phone subscriber uses his local line abroad, tapping the facilities of his or her carrier's partner telco. That's what happened to those who received a "Welcome to China" and "Welcome to Vietnam" roaming messages, Isberto said.

Telecommunications signals travel farther in open waters compared to urban and mountainous areas, he said.

The Chinese and Vietnam telco signal is a "matter or coverage" and should not be a cause for concern, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. 

During the trip to Pag-asa island, the government delegation and the media received roaming messages from Vietnam and China, he said. 

Currently, there are 200 families living on the island.  -- with a report from Zhander Cayabyab, ABS-CBN News