Put money on SIM law enforcement

BAR NONE - Ian Manticajon - The Freeman

Senator Win Gatchalian has criticized the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for its failure to enforce the provisions of the SIM registration law, which has allowed scammers within various Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO’s) to continue their fraudulent activities.

In a statement released last Sunday, Gatchalian reminded the NTC of its job to ensure the effective implementation of the SIM registration law. He said that a common factor among the raided POGO’s is the significant number of SIM cards used for fraudulent purposes. In the case of a raid of a POGO hub in Bamban, Tarlac, authorities uncovered SIM cards with false identities, along with various phones and scamming scripts.

Republic Act No. 11934, or the SIM Card Registration Act, was enacted to reduce, if not eliminate, scams conducted through text or online messages. However, according to Gatchalian, since the law's implementation on October 10, 2022, scamming activities have “increased significantly”, contrary to expectations, although the senator did not provide specific numbers.

This recent statement from the senator aligns with concerns raised last year about the persistence of text scams despite the SIM card registration law. During a budget hearing, legislators also questioned the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and its attached agencies, including the NTC, about the issue of text scams even after millions of SIM cards had been registered.

Those who follow this column know that I’ve consistently supported a SIM card registration regime, believing it will help curb scams, cybercrimes, and disinformation on social media. My stance has not changed or wavered. There might be technological loopholes that can be exploited by organized crime, but the fact remains that the law can now hold accountable those who misuse registered SIM cards.

I believe it is still a matter of effective enforcement of the SIM card registration law to protect the public from fraud and other cybercrimes. The law empowers the DICT and law enforcement agencies with the necessary tools to investigate and hold accountable those who misuse registered SIM cards or evade the law, a capability that was previously unavailable before the law's enactment.

But it must also be closely examined whether the NTC, an attached agency of the DICT, has been given the budget required to effectively enforce the SIM card registration law. It's not fair to focus the blame on the NTC while it operates under a meager budget of less than a billion pesos a year, spread across its various other mandates.

In 2023, the NTC exceeded its revenue collection target, amassing ?9.43 billion, which was 62% more than its target of ?5.91 billion, according to GMA News. Ironically, even with this increased revenue, the agency's budget remains modest compared to its wide-ranging mission, which includes overseeing telecommunications and broadcasting sectors and addressing issues such as cyber scams and illegal online activities.

This limited budget allocation could hinder the NTC's capacity to fully implement and enforce the SIM card registration law. You cannot talk about effective enforcement if you don’t invest in improved database systems, AI and machine learning tools, and additional skilled personnel, including IT experts, data analysts, and cybersecurity professionals, to enhance the NTC's capabilities to manage data, detect fraud, ensure regulatory compliance, and protect against cyber threat. There should be no skimping on spending for public safety and security by reducing the incidence of fraud, scams, and other illegal activities facilitated through digital technology.

Effective enforcement of the law requires not just regulatory will but also sufficient resources.

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