Lawmaker wants free SMS alerts during disasters

Posted at 12/28/11 11:57 PM

MANILA, Philippines - In the hopes to avoid calamities similar to what struck the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan almost 2 weeks ago, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño sees proposed House Bill No. 5660 as a possible solution.

The bill, otherwise known as the Free Mobile Alerts Act, seeks to mandate telecommunication companies to provide free alerts through short message systems (SMS) to people in areas that may be affected by impending natural disasters.

In a phone interview, Casiño said that the bill ensures that localized alerts will be sent to subscribers of telecommunication companies free of charge.

"The information relayed by these companies will come from disaster authorities, either from regional councils or national coordinating councils on disaster," he said.

He added that expenses incurred for the free text alerts will be shouldered by different telecommunication companies and their franchise, saying that "it is their obligation to provide such free service in areas affected by calamities."

He also explained that funds will not seem to pose an issue as areas prone to natural disasters are selected. "The more important matter for discussion here is coordination and the seriousness of companies in providing public service."

However, in a separate interview with Globe Telecoms vice-president for Public Relations, Yoly Crisano, she disclosed that a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between all telecommunication companies and the National Disaster Risk Reduction Committe (NDRRMC) exists.

Signed this year, the MOA saw the activation of a text hotline with number 1456 to be used for disaster preparedness.

"What the NDRRMC does is they use this four digit number to be able to send text messages to people who are actually endangered and allow them to prepare for disasters," Crisano explained.

Unfortunately, the last time the hotline was utilized was during the surge of tropical storm Quiel which caused massive flooding in Bulacan, Pampanga and other Luzon provinces.

Casiño's bill, on the other hand, does not limit information from the NDRRMC alone.

Should the bill be enacted into law, it would also include alerts from other agencies including the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astornomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Siemology (PHIVOLCS) and other relevant agencies.

He also said that despite telecommunication companies saying that an existing MOA exists, the latter is not being fully utilized.

"The way I see it, this is not objectionable. In fact they consider this as part of their corporate social responsibility. We want to make this their obligation," he added.

Crisano expressed their company's support to the bill especially if it means being able to help Filipinos in typhoon prone areas.

"We have been very supportive of the moves of government to help countrymen, especially those in the provinces," she said.

Crisano added that once information about the bill has been relayed to them, their first course of action is to study the bill and take into consideration public service.

The Free Mobile Alerts Act will be given priority come January 16 when Congress will resume session.

Casiño said that the bill will be one of those given priority by the Committee on Information and Communication Technology especially now that Visayas and Mindanao are threatened by another typhoon.