REACTING to my question last Monday, my friend, PNP chief General Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa and Armed Forces chief, Gen. Ed Año strongly suggested that they need all the help they can get from Congress to fight terror in the country.
In fact, both the PNP and the AFP chiefs minced no words in calling on Congress to amend the Human Security Act to give them more teeth in fighting foreign terror groups and their local allies which have turned The Philippines into a ‘breeding ground’ for terrorism.
Gen. Dela Rosa in particular said that what the country needs now to address terrorism are a National ID System and the regulated use of pre-paid Subscribers Identification Module or SIM cards being used by terrorists to detonate powerful improvised explosive devices.
I posed a question to the two top security officials amid a claim by Mindanao surgeon Russel Salic that the terror laws in the country ‘is not strict’ compared to countries like Australia, United Kingdom and Singapore. In response, the PNP chief said “there is a need for Congress to regulate the use of post-paid SIM cards which can be bought by anybody in any part of the country.
He also batted for a national ID system saying the measure as well as that of the strict SIM regulation have been recommended by security forces years before and have been in the air for quite some time already. “You are asking about a comparison between our country and other countries. The terrorists choose to operate here because they know they can move easily around here. For one, the national ID system, which is deemed to be an important anti-terrorism measure, can hardly pass through legislation. We have been clamoring for that, but it’s a very uphill battle,” Gen. Dela Rosa said.
The PNP chief also mentioned the registration of prepaid SIM cards as another measure that would help curb terrorism and criminality in the country. For his part, Gen. Año told me that Salic’s claim is true “because the country enjoys so much democratic space that is being exploited by terror and also criminal groups.’’
He referred to terror rings like the Abu Sayyaf, the Maute Group, Ansar al Khalifa, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the New People’s Army. Gen. Año said other countries allow authorities to detain an individual on mere suspicion of being involved in terrorism and they also have a special court that hears the case.
“Up to three years, they can detain an individual until they are able to determine that the person is really part of a terror group. Here, we have the Human Security Act, but we want to have it amended and the provisions expanded because we believe it’s not enough to address the threats brought by terrorism,” Año said.
‘So much democratic space’ actually is being taken advantage of by all persons and groups in our country, including critics of the government and big business groups who are trying to skirt paying right taxes.
As I have mentioned in previous columns, I strongly support a national ID system and the need to registered pre-paid SIM cards for mobile phones upon purchase to prevent the possibility they could be used in criminality and terrorism. These measures were proposed by then Chief,PNP and now Senator Ping Lacson in 1999. Sen. Tito Sotto has filed another bill calling for the pre-paid card registration citing the same reasons.
As I have been pointing out, unregistered SIM cards are being used by terrorists and criminals including con artists to victimize targets in our country, thus the urgent need to require their registration to help our security forces catch criminals using pre-paid SIM cards. Our government must require all telecommunication companies or telcos to require buyers of their pre-paid SIM cards to present passports, valid IDs and proof of ownership first. If countries like Singapore, Taiwan and China do this, why can’t we?
A police official however told me that telcos in the country are the ones blocking efforts by our security forces to have all pre-paid SIM cards registered upon purchase. As Gen. de la Rosa had said, regulating the sale of pre-paid SIM cards should be the job of the government, not telcos but at present, it seems that telcos are the ones making the decision on the matter.
Just a food for thought. A friend from the PNP told me that tecos are engaged in ‘lobbying’ at the Congress to stop all proposals to regulate pre-paid SIM cards. When I asked him why, he gave me a very simple explanation. At the moment, telcos are not providing the National Telecommunications Company an accounting of how many pre-paid SIM cards have they produced and distributed through the years.
Let’s begin our calculations, say in 2000. Let’s say that if 50 percent of the over 100 million Filipinos have bought pre-paid SIM cards that year alone, that means 50 million unregistered pre-paid SIM cards were already out in the streets that year. If each of the buyers acquires more pre-paid SIM cards each year or every month, the volume would be very big.
But the real problem here is that these telcos were not paying the right taxes to the government since they don’t give the exact amount of pre-paid SIM cards to the NTC or other concerned government agencies. These amounts to tens of billions of pesos or more over the past 17 years alone, my friend said.