MANILA— The National Telecommunications Commission said on Wednesday it was looking into an emergency alert that appeared to promote the 2022 presidential bid of former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.
The text alert received by several people contains Marcos' initials and ends with the hashtag #BBM2022.
The national disaster council did not send this alert to telcos for dissemination, said NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios.
"Most probably, hindi pa natin kino-conclude (we are not yet concluding), most probably galing 'yan sa [that came from] portable cell sites illegally operated," he said told ABS-CBN News.
"We are not yet concluding kasi it’s still being investigated by our regulation branch," added the official.
He noted the NTC bans the sale of portable cell sites, except by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the agencies it would allow.
"During emergencies kasi, walang communications network available in the area, puwedeng gamitin ‘yan to send information to those with cellphones within a locality where naroon ‘yong disaster,"' Cabarios said in a phone call.
(During emergencies, there is no communications network available in the area, so you can use that to send information to those with cellphones within a locality where the disaster happened.)
"Pero kung wala namang emergency at ginamit mo—assuming na ‘yong portable cell sites ay nabili nang tama, hindi illegal ang pagkabili—illegal pa rin ‘yong operation niya kasi wala namang emergency gagamitin mo."
(But if there is no emergency and you use it— assuming the cell sites were bought properly and legally —its operation is still illegal because you used it without an emergency.)
Those who use portable cell sites improperly will be held liable under the radio control law. Individuals will be fined P2,000 per offense, while companies will face a penalty of P5,000 per offense, Cabarios said.
However, he also said a portable cell site can be turned off in seconds and are thus hard to track.
"Well we are doing our best… Wala pa kaming equipment to track down, wala pa, may kamahalan," said the official.
(We do not have equipment yet to track it down, none yet, it's a bit expensive.)
NDRRMC DISOWNS ALERT
The only emergency notifications that NDRRMC issued on Wednesday were "rainfall warnings due to the current weather disturbance and nothing else," said NDRRMC spokesman Mark Timbal.
The NDRRMC only learned about the pro-Marcos alert from the media, said Executive Director Ricardo Jalad.
"I really don't know how it happened. That particular message did not come from the NDRRMC," he said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.
The Free Mobile Alert Act requires emergency alerts to be "hazard specific, time bound and area focused," Jalad said.
These alerts are channeled from warning agencies like state weather bureau PHIVOLCS and seismology office Phivolcs to the NDRRMC Operations Center, and the to telcos, he said.
"We don't send directly to the subscribers. And again, not that kind of message which I'm sure the telcos won't accept from us," added the NDRRMC chief.
Timbal also assured the public, "The NDRRMC reserves the use of its warning systems for their mandated purpose only, that is to provide proper and timely warning to our people regarding natural hazards."
Former party-list lawmaker Neri Colmenares, author of the Free Mobile Disasters Alerts Act, said he was concerned about the incident.
"Either ginagamit ng BBM camp ang emergency SMS facility ng gobyerno or they are misrepresenting as an emergency alert what is clearly a political ad. Nakakadismaya na may ganitong mga kandidato," he said on Twitter.
(Either the the BBM camp is using the emergency SMS facility of government or they are misrepresenting as an emergency alert what is clearly a political ad. It is sad that there's this kind of a candidate.)
Under electoral laws, there is no penalty specifically for the use of emergency channels for campaigning, said Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez.
"However, it can be assumed that the emergency alert system operates under guidelines that would prevent the use of the system for non-emergency uses," he noted.
"While there is no doubt that this use of the emergency alert system is ill-advised at best, whether or not criminal liability will attach to those who are behind this move will have to be determined by the appropriate agencies of government," Jimenez added.
MARCOS CAMP WELCOMES PROBE
Marcos and his allies "support the swift action of the NTC calling for an investigation," said his chief of staff Victor Rodriguez.
He dubbed the text alert "as among the many demolition jobs unleashed by those who obviously want to frustrate his candidacy."
"BBM and his family received similar alert notifications. We should not tolerate any group or groups’ underhanded moves to trivialize this very special tool meant to forewarn every single Filipino of an impending, actual, or post-disaster event or scenario," Rodriguez said in a statement.
He told people behind the notification, "We appeal that you do not please mess with a functioning government system that is purposely meant to save lives just so you may advance your agenda of derailing the candidacy" of Marcos.