PNP asks NTC to shut down cell signal for Sinulog

By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol, Nestle L. Semilla January 12,2017 - 12:49 AM
Sinulog crowd at Fuente Osmeña Circle. (CDN FILE PHOTO)

Sinulog crowd at Fuente Osmeña Circle. (CDN FILE PHOTO)

Be ready to shift back to basics again.

Mobile phone signals from telecommunication companies are likely to be shut down during the solemn procession of the Sto. Niño de Cebu on Saturday and the Sinulog grand parade the following day.

Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), has requested the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to shut down network services in areas of Cebu City where throngs of people are expected to converge.

A written request was sent to the NTC central office in Manila last Monday.

Although no response has been made yet as of yesterday, Taliño was confident his request will be approved.

“More or less, that is already approved. We are just waiting for the formal (written) approval,” said Taliño during the final coordinating security conference for the Fiesta Señor and the Sinulog 2017 at the Cebu City Police Office yesterday.

Taliño, however, was tight-lipped about the details and specifics of the planned shutdown, saying he doesn’t want to preempt any order from NTC.

“We expect NTC to approve it. But for now, I still do not have anything to show. I’m waiting for it so I can inform the mayor and the church about it,” he told reporters partly in Tagalog.

“Once I get hold of the formal approval, we will formally disseminate the specific time and areas that will be affected (by the planned shutdown),” he added.

But Taliño declined to give more details about the added security measure, saying he needs to secure the written approval from NTC first.

NTC-7 director Jesus Laureno said all telecommunication services — text messages, phone calls and mobile/internet data — will be interrupted in case the planned shutdown will be implemented.

Landlines and broadband connections, however, will not be affected.

“Only services accessed through mobile phone signals will be affected. But if there are WiFi connections in certain areas, you can still use it,” Laureno said.
Laureno is expected to meet with officers of telecommunication companies to discuss on how to implement the planned shutdown.

“I can’t give you the specifics for now because we have not decided on anything yet. I also could not say yet how many cell sites will be shut down,” he said.

Security comes first

Upon the request of the Philippine National Police, telecommunication companies also shut down network services in areas of Quiapo in Manila and the routes of the procession during the Feast of Black Nazarene last Monday. Taliño said PRO-7 intends to adopt the same security measure for the solemn of the Sto. Niño and the Sinulog grand parade.

He appealed to the public to bear with any inconveniences that may be caused by the planned shutdown of telecommunication signals.

“Lahat tayo dito ang magsasakripisyo. Konting oras lang naman ito. Ang importante dito ang security ng public. (All of us have to sacrifice. Anyway, this will not last long. What is important is the security of the public),” he said.

PNP chief Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa is expected in Cebu City on Saturday to inspect the security measures being implemented for the Fiesta Señor and the Sinulog, said PRO-7 deputy director for operations Senior Supt. Rey Lyndon Lawas.

Lawas said the police still needed to improve communication with other government agencies through handheld radios, which will become vital communication tools if cellular phone signals will no longer be available.

A bomb simulation exercise was held at the Plaza Independencia on Wednesday, where police purely used handheld radios instead of cellular phones.

“We need to improve the interoperability of the other responding offices. This is one thing we will have to sit down again on. We need to polish this and iron it out,” Lawas said, admitting they have yet to plan how to integrate the radio frequency of all government responders.

Telcos’ response

Mon Isberto, public affairs head of Smart Communications, said they are willing to obey what NTC will ask them to do for the safety of the public.
“If authorities instruct us to temporarily suspend our wireless services in the interest of public safety, we will comply,” he said in a statement to Cebu Daily News.

Globe Telecom, on the other hand, had yet to issue a formal statement regarding the planned shutdown of phone signals.

Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, deputy mayor on police matters, urged the public to plan ahead and to make contingency plans in the event phone signals are shut down.

“Families should agree where to meet in case they decide to part ways during the procession or the Sinulog or when there will be emergencies. For members of the media, the alternative way of communication is the handheld radio,” he said.

“I urge people to bring transistor radios so they can monitor special announcements,” he added.

If PRO-7’s request to shut down telecommunication signals will be approved by NTC, Tumulak said it will be the first time such security measure will be implemented during the Fiesta Señor and the Sinulog.

He said the police and military personnel are enforcing stringent security measures to ward off possible terror attacks.

Security concerns have been raised after rumors of bomb threats spread all over Cebu last Nov. 4, and the explosion that injured 32 persons, including 10 children, during a town fiesta in Hilongos, Leyte, last Dec. 28.

“We would like to request the public to support us. I hope they will understand the intention of the police because this is for the our own safety,” Tumulak said.

“Just think that this is our city. This is our celebration. We have to make it safe for the people,” he added.
But Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI) executive director Ricky Ballesteros hoped it would not push through since it will affect coverages especially those intended for people outside Cebu.

“Sinulog is all about promotion and publicity. It is all about selfies and groupies. But then again, we always have to prioritize public safety,” he added.

Signal jammers?

Yesterday’s simulation exercise assumed there would be signal jammers installed or that cell sites would be shut down so that police and other responding agencies like the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Cebu City Quick Response Team (QRT) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command Explosives Operation Division (EOD) would have to rely on their own radio facilities to communicate with each other.

Lawas said there was a slight delay in responding to the fake emergency during the exercise. The simulation was done without the knowledge of the other police stations.

“It will take some time for responding units to arrive at the crime scene. Response time depends on whether the information was relayed and received on time,” Lawas explained.

While there are “no imminent, direct and specific threats” for now, Taliño said it is better to be ready than sorry.

“Terrorist attacks can happen anywhere in the country. Law enforcers and the public should not be complacent and should be vigilant at all times,” he said.

The solemn procession of the Sto. Niño, which draws at least a million people each year, will start at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. From the Basilica del Sto.

Niño, the carrozas of St. Joseph, Our Lady of Consolation and the Sto. Niño de Cebu will pass through Osmeña Boulevard. Upon reaching the Fuente Osmeña circle, the procession will proceed to General Maxilom Avenue, Imus Street, M.J. Cuenco Avenue, Urdaneta Street, P. Burgos Street and back to the Basilica.

The 5.7-kilometer prayer walk is set to be finished by 6 p.m. in time for the Pontifical Mass and the one-hour traditional Sinulog at the Basilica’s Pilgrim Center.

On Jan. 15, the 5-km Sinulog grand parade, which will start at 9 a.m., will begin in Imus Road, to M.J. Cuenco Ave., then to Gen. Maxilom Ave. to Fuente Osmeña and Osmeña Blvd., going to the Cebu City Sports Center.

The force

About 8,000 police, military personnel and private security groups are assigned to secure the crowd for the solemn processions and grand parade.

Policemen will also be deployed during the Traslacion motorcade that will bring the image of the Child Jesus and the Our Lady of Guadalupe to Mandaue City on Friday as well as the fluvial procession on Saturday.

Roads near the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City will be closed to vehicular traffic at 6 a.m. on Friday, said Traffic Enforcement Agency of Mandaue (Team) head Glenn Antigua.

“Commuters, most especially those heading to Cebu City, must avoid these routes during these hours because they will surely be delayed once they get to Mabolo,” Antigua said.

Starting on Jan. 5, a 10-day gun ban is also being enforced in the city and province of Cebu as an added security measure.

Aside from the gun ban, PRO-7 is also regulating the use of drones.

Only drones covered by permits from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and PRO-7 will be allowed along the route of the solemn procession of the Sto. Niño on Jan. 14 and the Sinulog Festival on Jan. 15.

The three skywalks near Fuente Osmeña and along Osmeña Boulevard will also be closed to the public on Saturday and Sunday. with reports from Victor Anthony V. Silva, Jose Santino S. Bunachita, and Dominic D. Yasay

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TAGS: #Sinulog2017, Cebu, cell, cell signal, Globe, PNP, police, Sinulog, Smart, Telecom

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