Smart maintains GSM service on Pag-asa Is.
() - July 30, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Smart Communications Inc. recently conducted maintenance work on its cell site on Pag-asa in the Kalayaan group of islands in the West Philippine Sea to ensure continuous communication for soldiers deployed there as well as civilian residents.

Located some 535 kilometers from Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Pag-asa Island, which is part of the Spratlys, hosts a contingent from the Philippine Air Force Detachment 570, the 355th Aviation and Engineering Wing, and the Philippine Navy.

Civilians were brought to the island in 2002 under a resettlement program.

Smart provides GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) service via VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal).

“When we constructed the cell site in 2005, we knew that maintenance would be a challenge, considering the remote location and the lack of regular commercial trips to and from the island. But we were assured of support from the military, our main beneficiaries,” said Rogelio Flores, head for South Luzon of Smart’s Technology Services Division.

With the help of AFP Western Command (Wescom) commander Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban, AFP deputy chief of staff for logistics Commodore Edgardo Tamayo and Wescom spokesman Maj. Neil Estrella, Flores was able to transport equipment to Pag-asa last month.

Flores, along with engineers Guds Cabrera, Edu Calalo, and Louie Corpuz, worked on the VSAT transmission and the base station equipment.

“Maintaining base stations located by the sea is generally more challenging because metal parts get corroded more easily due to the salty air - even more so on Pag-asa because it takes time to go and secure additional spare parts,” said Cabrera, technology services supervisor for Palawan and Laguna South.

Engineers Guds Cabrera and Edu Calalo check the base station equipment housed in the Smart tower (right) on Pag-asa Island.

Every month, a Philippine Navy boat transports supplies and troops assigned to relieve those stationed in nine Philippine-claimed sites in the Kalayaan Island Group. Aside from Pag-asa Island, the country has detachments posted on the islands of Likas, Parola, Lawak, Kota, Patag and Panata and the reefs of Rizal, Balagtas and Ayungin.

The Navy boat takes five to six days to complete its rounds.

The weather is also a factor. Flores’ team had completed their work in a week, but they were stranded on the island for another week due to bad weather.

Flores said that keeping in touch with their families and friends boosts soldiers’ morale, especially when they are assigned to remote areas and those in the eye of controversy like the Spratlys.

Other countries with claims on the region are China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The Spratlys are believed to sit on vast mineral resources and all claimants, except Brunei, have troops posted on some of the islands.

AVIATION AND ENGINEERING WING BALAGTAS AND AYUNGIN BRUNEI COMMODORE EDGARDO TAMAYO AND WESCOM EDU CALALO ENGINEERS GUDS CABRERA AND EDU CALALO GLOBAL SYSTEM GUDS CABRERA PAG PHILIPPINE NAVY SPRATLYS
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