Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima urged Congress to investigate the reported sale of text blast machines on Facebook (marketplace) Philippines and e-commerce companies, such as Lazada and Shopee, which are being used for partisan political activities.
De Lima filed Proposed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 934 directing the appropriate Senate Committee to investigate the possible use and abuse of unlicensed radio equipment to send emergency text blasts during the filing of candidacy of an aspiring presidential candidate last Oct. 6.
“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,” she said.
Text blasting is defined as the action in a radio communication system where text messages are being sent to numerous and random recipients. An equipment such as a transmitter is required to perform this action where such devices have the capability to deliver about 100,000 text messages per hour.
Last Oct. 6, unsuspecting recipients at Sofitel Harbor Garden tent—which was used by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as a venue for filing of Certificates of Candidacy for the May 2022 polls—reportedly received a text blast cheering for an aspiring presidential candidate.
The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) later ordered Facebook, Lazada and Shopee to immediately stop selling text blast machines, stating that no authorization was issued to 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 noted that the abovementioned incident occurring at the Sofitel area was reportedly not the first instance of such abuses, as the “weaponization” of text blast machines was already prevalent in smaller towns during the 2019 elections.
As such, the lady Senator from Bicol underscored the need for Congress to formulate amendments to existing laws to prevent the use of text blast machines for such purposes.
“The use of emergency government channels for campaign purposes could set a dangerous precedent in future elections if it is left unchecked,” she said.
“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,” she added.
De Lima further stressed the need to strengthen the “The Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act” and prevent the use of text blast machines not intended for emergency use.
While COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez claimed that “there is no penalty specifically for the use of emergency channels for campaigning, he described the use of an emergency alert system for propaganda as “ill-advised.” (30)