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Noy wants all-weather communication system

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has tasked the Department of Science and Technology to come up with an all-weather communication system so that government officials can be reached all the time, especially during calamities.

This developed after Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II could not be contacted last Friday in Tacloban City when telecommunication services there were cut off as Super Typhoon Yolanda battered the city and other areas in the Visayas.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the President asked Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo to study and propose a secure all-weather communication system.

Montejo would also have to submit a concrete suggestion on how to address the problem with communication lines in times of calamities.

Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Coloma said Gazmin and Roxas were only able to get in touch with President Aquino early Friday night to update him on the devastation caused by Yolanda.

Gazmin and Roxas used a satellite phone to communicate from Tacloban City.

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Almendras said the government was able to establish communication with Cebu.

“Actually, we now have communications link... All the cell sites are down, but the government communication infrastructure is coming. It’s already in place in most of the areas,” Almendras said in an interview with CNN yesterday.

Telcos racing to restore facilities

Telecommunications providers, meanwhile, are racing to restore services in the provinces ravaged by Yolanda.

As of noon yesterday, damage assessment found that about 53 percent of the Globe network in the Visayas region had been adversely affected.

Ayala-led Globe Telecom said restoration of its communication services is now underway in areas severely affected by the typhoon. It has restored communication services in Iloilo and Roxas City following service disruption on Friday as Yolanda wreaked havoc in these areas.

Globe head of corporate communications Yoly Crisanto said it would take the company at least 48 hours to restore services in areas hard hit by the typhoon.

She also said back-up power facilities have been fully utilized in the company’s major regional exchange centers.

“We have activated our Disaster Coordination Center in Lahug and our Regional Operations Center to expedite restoration efforts in the Visayas region. Globe technical teams in the region continue to do coordination, monitoring and site assessments in the affected areas,” Crisanto said.

Service areas affected include those in Aklan, Antique, Biliran, Bohol, Capiz, Eastern Samar, Guimaras, Leyte, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Northern Samar, Siquijor, Southern Leyte and Western Samar.

Crisanto said service disruption in the Visayas region was due mostly to multiple transmission link failures and prolonged commercial power outages following storm surges and strong winds brought by the super typhoon.

Voice, text and data services in large parts of the following areas are now available: Antique, 45 percent; Bohol, 64 percent; Cebu, 60 percent; Guimaras, 88 percent; Iloilo, 64 percent; Negro Occidental, 70 percent; Negros Oriental, 87 percent; Northern Samar, eight percent; Southern Leyte, 28 percent; Siquijor, 100 percent; and Western Samar, two percent.

Globe has also authorized the use of all its manned cell sites in Bohol, Samar and Leyte as free charging stations since there is no electricity yet in the provinces. The facilities are being powered by heavy-duty generators.

Smart Communications Inc., on the other hand, has also started restoring its facilities and expects to fire up most of these equipment in the next two to three days.

“The teams that we pre-positioned in the affected provinces started restoration work immediately after the storm passed. They put Ormoc City back on air last night and we are moving on to the surrounding municipalities from there,” Rolando Peña, head of technology services for PLDT and Smart, said in an advisory.

“About 15 percent of our cellular coverage in the three regions of Central Philippines was affected by the super typhoon, most of these in Eastern Samar and Leyte which bore the brunt of the storm’s fury,” Peña said

In Mindanao, less than one percent of Smart’s network there was affected, mostly in Surigao del Norte, while less than 10 percent of its network in South Luzon was affected, mostly in Masbate and Romblon.

“In a number of areas, service is not available because of the lack of commercial electricity. To address this, we are dispatching generation sets to augment local power. We are also making available to local residents power in our cell sites to enable them to re-charge their mobile phones,” Peña said.

Smart also said that its subscribers can donate to the Philippine Red Cross. Donations are accepted in the following amounts: P10, P25, P50, P100, P300, P500 and P1,000. Subscribers may text RED (amount) to 4143.

Power not yet fully restored

Several areas in the Visayas and Luzon, however, are still without electricity due to damaged transmission lines.

The National Electrification Administration said that as of yesterday, there was still no power in Lubang, Romblon, Iloilo, Coron, Antique, Capiz, Mindoro, Biliran, Catbalogan, Ormoc, Leyte and Aklan.

The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) said in its latest advisory that there was also no power in Samar and Bohol as transmission facilities there remained down.

But the NGCP said in Cebu, 157 megawatts of affected power have been restored. These are in Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City, Balamban City, Toledo, Asturias, Naga, San Fernando, Carcar City, Sibonga, Argao, Dumanjug and Alcoy.

In Luzon, affected transmission lines are the Batangas-Lipa 69 kilovolt line covering Lipa, San Jose and Mataas na Kahoy; the 69 kilovolt Batangas-Rosario line covering Ibaan, Rosario, Padre Garcia, San Juan and Taysan; and the 69 kilovolt Batangas-Holcim line covering portions of the Mabini substation.

 – Aurea Calica, Czerina Valencia, Iris Gonzales, Lawrence Agcaoili, Jaime Laude

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