De Lima seeks probe into sale and use of text blast machines forpartisan political activities

De Lima seeks probe into sale and use of text blast machines for
partisan political activities

By Ernie Reyes

MANILA — Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged Congress to
investigate the reported sale of text blast machines on Facebook
(marketplace) Philippines and e-commerce companies, such as Lazada and
Shopee, which are being used for partisan political activities.

In a statement, De Lima said that the hijacking of emergency protocol
systems to spam people with unsolicited political messages are abusive
and dangerous

With this, De Lima filed Proposed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 934
directing the appropriate Senate Committee to investigate the possible
use and abuse of unlicensed radio equipment to send emergency text
blasts during the filing of the candidacy of an aspiring presidential
candidate last Oct. 6.

“It is the primordial duty of the Philippine Senate, in the exercise
of its legislative and oversight functions, to ensure that the
government is strictly implementing the law about emergency alerts
according to its intention and provide mechanisms to improve the
country’s policy regarding emergency alerts and text blasting
especially during election periods,” she said.

Text blasting is defined as the action in a radio communication system
where text messages are being sent to numerous and random recipients.

A piece of equipment such as a transmitter is required to perform this action
where such devices have the capability to deliver about 100,000 text
messages per hour.

Last Oct. 6, unsuspecting recipients at Sofitel Harbor Garden
tent—which was used by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as a
venue for filing of Certificates of Candidacy for May 2022
polls—reportedly received a text blast cheering for an aspiring
presidential candidate.

The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) later ordered
Facebook, Lazada, and Shopee to immediately stop selling text blast
machines, stating that no authorization was issued to the importation,
manufacture, sale, and distribution of devices, such as Hitech SMS
blaster, SMS location blasting system, and other similar products
found within their platforms.

De Lima noted that the abovementioned incident occurring at the
Sofitel area was reportedly not the first instance of such abuses, as
the “weaponization” of text blast machines was already prevalent in
smaller towns during the 2019 elections.

As such, the lady Senator from Bicol underscored the need for Congress
to formulate amendments to existing laws to prevent the use of text
blast machines for such purposes.

“The use of emergency government channels for campaign purposes could
set a dangerous precedent in future elections if it is left
unchecked,” she said.

“The Cybercrime Prevention Act prohibits unsolicited commercial
communications. There is a need to consider whether the same should
likewise be prohibited for political and election-related ‘spamming’
activities,” she added.

De Lima further stressed the need to strengthen the “The Free Mobile
Disaster Alerts Act” and prevent the use of text blast machines not
intended for emergency use.

While COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez claimed that “there is no
penalty specifically for the use of emergency channels for
campaigning, he described the use of an emergency alert system for
propaganda as “ill-advised.” (ai/mtvn)

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