‘CAUGHT IN A JAM’: Dinagyang signal block irks riders, residents

A spectator uses his smartphone to take photos of the Dagyang sa Barangay performance of the Dinagyang Festival on Jan 22, 2023 at the Freedom Grandstand. Jamming of mobile phone signal was supposed to be limited to performance areas in Iloilo City but it affected neighboring towns and even Guimaras province. (F.A. Angelo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan and Sean Rafio

While signal jamming was not a new concept to the Dinagyang Festival, residents of Iloilo City and neighboring towns were dumbfounded and even angry due to its impact on their personal lives and businesses.

The signal jamming at the performance areas in City Proper district started around 6 a.m. on Saturday, Jan 21, 2023 and ended at almost 2:00 p.m. on the same day.

A prior announcement by local authorities stated that the signal jam was limited to the Freedom Grandstand, Plazoleta Gay, Delgado to Quezon Streets, University of Iloilo PHINMA, Plaza Libertad, the Iloilo Provincial Capitol, and the Iloilo Central Market.

A signal block was also implemented in Mandurriao district on Saturday from 5:40 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for the ILOmination event.

The signal jam supposedly covered the areas of Seda Atria Hotel, Gaisano City Time Square, Festive Mall, Atria, Plazuela de Iloilo, SM City South Point, Iloilo Business Park, and Smallville Complex.

But Ilonggos as well as other domestic and foreign visitors found themselves in a jam despite being outside of the signal block areas.

Some social media users who used landline-based WiFi connections expressed their anger over the inconvenience.

“It should’ve been just [Iloilo City Proper] without signal. My business in Oton is still pending because there was no signal,” according to Oton town resident Gracia Estrella.

“When you wake up [usually], you would get hold of your phone. We thought it was only the city without a signal. The ending, even in Pavia there were no signals,” Ana Mae Azucena of Pavia said.

“[I thought] the Dinagyang performances and the rush of people were just until [SM City Iloilo], why is it that even for us in Pavia, there is no signal,” Jen Poral added.

Unlike previous iterations of the festival, this year was the first face-to-face Dinagyang since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the public to rely on digital and mobile technology for work and leisure.

“I went to the hospital [on Saturday], and it took long for my [HMO or health maintenance organization] to get approved because [they] couldn’t easily contact the office. It was just luck that the call went through,” a Maj Escanlar said in a tweet.

Delivery riders were most affected by the signal jam, with many social media users saying that they could not place the order because riders cannot be reached or accept their orders.

“This is too much that even those who are just chilling along Mapa Street and just ordering food also lost signal,” said one Twitter user who asked to be anonymous.

Iloilo Grab Riders Union (IGRU) president Jenner Crasco called the signal jam a “hindrance to their livelihood”, noting that it affected their source of income despite initially being announced to be limited in scope.

“What hurts is that we were losing our income source in the midst of an expected surge of orders during the Dinagyang season. While everyone is enjoying, we’re having a hard time because of signal jamming,” Crasco said in a statement.

Signal jamming was requested by the Iloilo City Police Office’s (ICPO) Explosive Ordnances Division, citing continued threats to festivalgoers.

This request was approved by the Iloilo City Council on Jan 11 with a resolution addressed to the National Telecommunications Commission and the Philippine National Police for the said jamming to take effect on the festival dates in limited areas.