“There is no country on Earth where Internet and telecommunications companies do not face at least some pressure from governments to do things that would potentially infringe on users’ rights to free expression and privacy.” –Rebecca MacKinnon
After leading the opposition and criticism of the proposal by the Philippine National Police (PNP) to shut down telecommunication signals in Iloilo City during the Dinagyang Festival three years ago, the Iloilo City Council approved a similar suggestion from the Iloilo City Police Office (ICPO), albeit for one day. While I respect the authority and expertise of those handling security, it is a veritable reproduction of the PNP policy when Pope Francis visited in 2015 and during the recent Black Nazarene procession.
In addition, it is also an infringement of the right to free expression, especially in the age of the internet and social media.
When communication lines are shutdown during important events, what is at jeopardy is the comfort and safety of those who update relatives in other areas of their current situation. Drug addicts and drunkards do not use such gadgets, police can always overpower an out of control crowd, and there are no terrorists willing to commit suicide attacks in a locality as well-guarded as Iloilo City.
I applaud City Councilor Allan Zaldivar, who cast the lone vote opposing signal jamming.
“If they only intend to extort cash, bringing an explosive device in Iloilo City is like holding a microphone in public and announcing that they would pee at the Plazoleta Gay,” I wrote in jest. “If they intend to send a political message, they will not only be barking at the wrong tree, they will be in the wrong place of the planet. Malacanang and Imperial Manila are several islands and regions away.”
Here’s what I wrote about the controversial jamming of telecommunication lines during the historic festival: “I grew up in Iloilo City in the Philippines and witnessed how Dinagyang Festival started as a ramshackle religious and cultural activity until it blossomed into a behemoth international attraction. Since the actual street dancing Dinagyang festivities romped off in the 70’s, the real problem was peace and order–drunken revelries, ill-behaved drug addicts and gangs composed of skinny but tattooed teenagers. No invasion of the third kind. No rebellion. No earth-shaking tumult. There were incidents of mugging, snatching, vandalism, acts of lasciviousness, street rumble, stabbing, among other street-level crimes. The police handled the situation and nipped the troublemakers in the bud. It’s the proliferation of illegal drugs, especially shabu, and the sales of liquor in the streets that should be regulated if not stopped during the week-long festival in the month of January. Not the ‘jamming’ of cellular phone signals.”
Alex P. Vidal, who is based in New York City, used to be the editor for two local dailies in Iloilo./WDJ