MANILA, Philippines - Authorities yesterday appealed to the public to be wary of cell phone signal jammers that may disrupt the elections on May 13.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, along with officials of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), warned of the potential damage of signal jammers, which they said could disrupt the transmission of results or compromise the integrity of the elections.
Brillantes and Roxas appealed to the public to immediately report anyone using these devices to the authorities.
Roxas directed the Philippine National Police (PNP), particularly its various intelligence units nationwide, to monitor suspected users of mobile phone jammers.
Brillantes said signal jammers could delay transmission of the vote count and eventually trigger speculations and raise questions about the results.
“These gadgets, like guns, are regulated and must be registered,” said Roxas.
“We decided to issue this public warning and seek assistance from the people to ensure peaceful and orderly elections on May 2013,” he said.
To demonstrate how a jammer could affect signals of mobile phones, Roxas instructed a technician to turn on a jamming device before the start of the press conference and people within 20-meter radius lost their signals on their cellular phones.
“Look at your cell phones, you don’t have signals. That’s the proof of the effect of the signal jammers,” Roxas said as he pointed to four jammers of different brands and sizes bought for only P30,000.
Roxas, however, refused to reveal how they were able to acquire the signal jammers but said the police and the NTC have started operations to apprehend the sellers.
Roxas ordered the newly activated the Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) of the PNP headed by Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa to go after sellers of signal jammers.
A cell phone signal jammer is used to stop nearby phones or Internet connections from sending or receiving signals to and from the cellular phone transmission towers.
The range or “shielding radius” of a personal cell phone jammer is from 10 to 20 meters, depending on the type or capacity of the jammer, some of which could fit in a pocket or a pack of cigarettes and easy to hide.
Larger jammers are more powerful and have a range that can measure in kilometers. Some signal jammers even appear like WiFi routers and have four antennas.
The Comelec will utilize the services of telecommunication companies in transmitting the counted votes in the polling precincts to the designated canvassing centers after the May 13 elections.
For his part, NTC commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said these gadgets are considered “smuggled.”
He said the NTC has not issued any permit to import or sell jammers in the country.
Apart from two years of imprisonment under an NTC memorandum and up to 12 years under the Election Code, Cordoba explained the offense of possessing signal jammers does not allow parole, and the individual involved will face perpetual disqualification from government office and right of suffrage.
Brillantes admitted the loss of cell phone signals might delay the transmission of results to the canvassing centers, which in turn could delay the proclamation of winners.
“Delays in transmission could lead to questions about the credibility of the elections,” he said.
Aside from possession of prohibited gadgets, Brillantes said causing delays in the election processes constitutes a criminal offense with penalty of about eight years.
Roxas said losing candidates are likely to use signal jammers so winning candidates must be vigilant and immediately seek police assistance to confiscate these illegal devices.
On the other hand, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) expressed concern over the reliability of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that will be used in the polls.
Namfrel chair Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo cited the reports of its volunteers across the country about the performance of the PCOS machines in several demonstrations conducted in their chapters.
Bernardo warned the malfunctioning of the machines will “pose problems on congestion and long lines in the precincts, voluntary disenfranchisement for voters who do not have time or patience to wait, possibility of low turnout and frustration for both Board of Election Inspectors and the voters.”
Bernardo cited the observations of Namfrel volunteers during the mock elections conducted by the Comelec in Baseco Compound in Tondo, Manila last Feb. 2.
She said it took more than an hour before the PCOS machines initialized and there were no available technicians to immediately address the problem.
She also mentioned the malfunctioning of the machines in areas like the University of the Philippines Integrated School in Quezon City; Bato, Camarines Sur and EDSA Elementary School in Manila.
The group also cited the failure of PCOS machines to transmit results in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi; Dumaguete City; Iriga City and Bato in Camarines Sur.
“We know that the Comelec is trying its best to ensure that the preparations for the May 13 elections include the operation-worthiness of the PCOS machines. We enjoin you to have your technical staff double check the capability of the PCOS so that the elections will run smoothly from voting to transmission,” Bernardo urged the Comelec.
– With Sheila Crisostomo