EDITORIAL - Weak enforcement

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Weak enforcement

The first law signed by President Marcos was Republic Act 11934, the SIM Registration Act of 2022. Two years later, phishing, smishing and other cyberscams continue to proliferate. Thousands of smartphones with SIMs, used for digital scams, are seized in raids on Philippine offshore gaming operator or POGO hubs.

On top of the continuing proliferation of subscriber identity module cards that are unregistered, or registered under fictitious names, cyberscams persist on over-the-top messaging platforms that are not covered by RA 11934, such as Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram and Messenger.

It’s not for lack of a legal framework to go after the scammers. Under RA 11934, anyone who provides false or fictitious information in registering a SIM card can be imprisoned for six months to two years, fined P300,000 or suffer both penalties. For the fraudulent use of a registered SIM card, the penalty is at least six years in prison, a fine of P200,000 or both.

The other weekend, the National Telecommunications Commission drew fire from Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who said the NTC was “sleeping on the job” after thousands of SIM cards were found in raids on POGO hubs Smartweb Technology Corp. in Pasay City, Zun Yuan Technology Inc. in Bamban, Tarlac, and Lucky South 99 at the boundary of Porac town and Angeles City in Pampanga.

Reacting to the criticism, the NTC vowed to enhance enforcement of RA 11934, but pointed out that the law, while an “important tool” against SIM-enabled offenses, is “not a silver bullet against messaging scams.”

Even when RA 11934 was being crafted, several quarters including telecommunications companies had stressed the importance of first having in place a reliable national identification system. This point was brushed aside as lawmakers rushed to be rid of the unwanted messages they kept getting on their mobile phones. To this day, registration for the national ID is not yet complete, and the SIM cards seized at the POGO hubs show how easy it is to provide false information in SIM registration.

The National Bureau of Investigation, under a new director, is at least on the job against cybercrime, busting a team of suspected hackers, one of whom said at a press conference that he operated under the direction of a newspaper editor for technology. The Department of Justice, which has jurisdiction over the NBI, must ensure that heavy penalties are imposed in this case, to send a strong message that hackers can be caught and punished.

The discovery of those piles of SIM cards at the illegal POGO hubs, however, shows how much still needs to be done.  RA 11934 clearly needs better enforcement, and perhaps additional legislation to stop the messaging scams.

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