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Senate probe sought into sale, use of text blast machines for political activities

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Senate probe sought into sale, use of text blast machines for political activities
This undated photo shows a person holding a mobile phone.
The STAR, File

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima wants the Senate to investigate the reported sale of text blast machines on Facebook Marketplace and other e-commerce companies which she warned are being used for partisan political activities.

Last October 6, mobile users received text messages cheering on former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. who had just filed his candidacy for president in the 2022 elections.

The National Telecommunication Commission later ordered Facebook, Lazada and Shopee to immediately stop selling text blast machines.

It said that no authorization was issued for 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 on Wednesday filed Senate Resolution 934, directing the appropriate Senate panel to investigate the possible use and abuse of unlicensed radio equipment to send the emergency text blasts. 

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

"The Cybercrime Prevention Act prohibits unsolicited commercial communications. There is need to consider whether the same should likewise be prohibited for political and election-related ‘spamming’ activities," De Lima, a former justice secretary, also said. 

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council on October 6 said its emergency alert system, which Filipinos reported was sending campaign ads for Marcos, was not used to disseminate messages that have nothing to do with weather disturbances. 

"The NDRRMC does not issue this type of message for distribution to the public through our Telco partners," Mark Timbal, NDRRMC spokesperson, told reporters in a text message. 

Timbal said that the usage of the emergency alerts system is governed by Republic Act No. 10639, "which requires that warning messages must be hazard-specific, time-bound and area-specific."

Meanwhile, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said that while “there is no penalty specifically for the use of emergency channels for campaigning" under electoral law, using it for "political propaganda purposes is ill-advised, at best." 

"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,” De Lima said. — Bella Perez-Rubio

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