Emergency alert for Marcos Jr.: A reminder apt 49 years ago
MANILA, Philippines—The emergency alert that sent mobile phones screaming that the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos has filed a certificate of candidacy to run for president next year was an eery reminder of the day Marcos declared martial law 49 years ago and ruled for more than 20 years.
It was added to the already long list of gimmicks that politicians resort to in a bid to gain name recall and woo voters
TV, radio, and social media stations are already dripping with ads of candidates promoting themselves. Some focus on social media believing it’s the platform of the youth.
When phones around Sofitel in Pasay City—venue of filing COC—rang out on Oct. 5, it was not for an earthquake or a storm, or a volcanic eruption.
People in the area received alerts with the hashtag #BBM2022–BBM being the initials of the late dictator’s son Bongbong Marcos Jr.
If such technology existed in 1972, it would have alerted people about the start of martial law, the darkest post-war period in Philippine history.
Was the stunt last Oct. 5 illegal? Who should be held accountable?
As Marcos Jr. filed his COC for president, people — including journalists — who were at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) tent on Sofitel grounds received emergency alert SMS.
The message, tagged as a “severe” emergency alert, included words that follow the acronym BBM, which is widely used to identify the late dictator’s son.
Aside from the words #BBM2022, a hashtag used by Marcos’ supporters, the SMS also said: “BBM sa bansa, BBM sa taong bayan, BBM sa Masa. BBM Pilipinas!!!”
(BBM for the country, BBM for the people, BBM for the mass. BBM Philippines.)
A clear indication that the message, sent by a still unknown person or group of people, was meant as a campaign for the late dictator’s son.
What the law says
According to Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, the use of emergency alerts is not considered a violation of electoral laws.
However, he said that using it for political propaganda is a “reprehensible tactic” and is “unreservedly wrong.”
“I am convinced that it is a violation of some law because it is done on an emergency alert system and an emergency alert system, I would suppose, operates under guidelines that would prevent its use or prohibit its use for non-emergency situations,” said Jimenez.
Republic Act No. 10639, also known as The Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act, provided that mobile disaster alerts shall be sent “in the event of an impending tropical storm, typhoon, tsunami, or other calamities” by mobile phone service providers.
It can be sent out at regular intervals, as required by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and other implementing government offices and agencies.
“The alerts shall consist of up-to-date information from the relevant agencies, and shall be sent directly to the mobile phone subscribers located near and within the affected areas,” Section 4 of the law said.
“The alerts shall include contact information of local government units and other agencies required to respond to the situation. The alerts may contain other relevant information such as, but not limited to, evacuation areas, relief sites and pick-up points,” it added.
The joint memorandum circular issued by NDRRMC in 2015 — which detailed the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 10639 — stated that all emergency alert and warning messages should first go through NDRRMC for validation and confirmation, before being transmitted by mobile phone service providers.
“All processed Emergency Alert and Warning Messages shall emanate from the NDRRMC through the NDRRM Operations Center (NDRRMOC),” Section 3 of the IRR read.
Section 4 of the IRR also stated that alert messages submitted to the NDRRMOC should include information that clearly indicates the “explicit nature of emergency”.
It also explained that the emergency alert and warning messages sent to the NDRRMOC are immediately forwarded to the executive director of NDRRMC for approval before being disseminated by mobile phone service providers to their subscribers.
NDRRMC issued a statement following the Marcos campaign fiasco, denying involvement in the dissemination of the alert message.
“We wish to clarify that the NDRRMC does not issue this type of message for distribution to the public through our telco partners,” said the NDRRMC.
“Our usage of the emergency mobile alerts system only follows the prescription of RA 10639 or the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act which requires that warning messages must be hazard-specific, time-bound and area-specific,” it added.
The agency explained that the emergency notifications it sends are only for rainfall warnings due to weather disturbances “and nothing else.”
NDRRMC said it was consulting with telcos to investigate.
“We trust that the National Telecommunications Commission will be looking into this matter,” said the NDRRMC.
“Our people can be assured that 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,” the agency said.
Aside from the regulating agencies — NDRRMC and NTC — which are responsible for the control, regulation, and management of the alert messages, the IRR also named several agencies which are responsible for the provisions of alerts and warning messages.
- Philippine Institute if Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs)
- Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa)
- Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI)
- Mines and GeoSciences Bureau (MGB)
- Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)
- Philippine National Police (PNP)
- Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
- Department of Health (DOH)
- Philippine Information Agency (PIA)
- Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO)
Violation and penalties
The IRR stated that anyone who will be found guilty of giving false or misleading information or conceal or falsify a material fact whether willfully or through gross negligence following any investigation, inquiry, study, or proceedings will face punishment.
The punishment consists of imprisonment of not less than two months but not more than six months, including a fine of not less than P1,000 but not more than P10,000.
“Provided, however, that if the false or misleading data or information shall have been under oath, the maximum penalty for giving false testimony or perjury shall be imposed,” Section 9.1 of the IRR stated.
Penalties imposed are higher, however, if the offender is a corporation — which may range from a fine of not less than P1,000,000 but not more than P10,000,000.
The corporation will likewise face suspension or revocation of legislative franchise and other permits and licenses by the NTC.
“The maximum penalties prescribed in [Section 9.1] shall also be imposed on the members of its board and/or management, as applicable,” Section 9.2 of the IRR read.
Meanwhile, if an alien — or any person who is not a citizen of the Philippines — is found guilty of violating RA 10639, he or she will face penalties mentioned in Section 9.1 and will be deported after the service of the sentence.
The alien will likewise no longer be allowed to re-enter the country again.
Jimenez said the person or persons behind the emergency alert “has to be held accountable.”
“This is a reprehensible strategy, and it should not be replicated by anyone. And I hope that the relevant agencies will move heaven and earth to find out who did this and hold them to account,” he added.
The NTC on Wednesday was ordered to investigate the issue.
“You are hereby directed to immediately investigate the attached ‘emergency alerts’ as reported by the media today,” said the NTC in a memorandum addressed to Director of the Regulations Branch Imelda Walciens.
“You are further directed to submit your report and recommendations immediately upon completion of your investigation,” the memo added.
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said Marcos Jr. should be held liable if proven that he was behind the hijacking of the emergency alert text systems for his presidential campaign.
“If Marcos indeed hijacked the airwaves to campaign, then their greed to return to Malacañang by hook or by crook should really be stopped,” said Colmenares, who is running for senator and also the principal author of RA 10639.
“If this is true, they are not only guilty of ill-gotten wealth, ill-gotten airwaves also,” he added.
READ: ‘Ill-gotten airwaves’? Colmenares wants Marcos liable if he’s behind emergency alerts ‘hijack’
The Marcos camp, on the other hand, viewed the emergency alerts as an “underhanded move” by groups against Marcos Jr.’s run and expressed support for NTC’s call for an investigation.
“The illegal use of the emergency blast was done at a time when Bongbong Marcos was filing his CoC and is viewed as among the many demolition jobs unleashed by those who obviously want to frustrate his candidacy,” said lawyer Victor Rodriguez, chief of staff of Marcos, in a statement.
“To those behind this despicable deed, 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 presidential aspirant Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.,” he added.
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