By Herman M. Lagon
THE WORLD-renowned Dinagyang Festival has become the center of a contentious debate on the necessity of signal jamming for public safety. Signal jamming is employed ostensibly for security purposes and involves turning off mobile phone signals to prevent potential threats. While this practice aims to enhance safety during large public gatherings, it raises critical questions about its effectiveness and the broader implications for society.
According to the PNP, the primary rationale behind signal jamming is to augment security measures. By disrupting communication channels, authorities aim to prevent the coordination of unlawful activities, such as terrorist attacks. This method is seen as a proactive step in ensuring the safety of festival participants and attendees.
Signal jamming is also considered beneficial for crowd control. In events attracting massive gatherings, limiting the flow of information can help manage panic or misinformation, especially in emergencies. This aspect of signal jamming is viewed as a tool to maintain order during large-scale events.
However, there is growing skepticism regarding the actual effectiveness of signal jamming in preventing crimes or terrorist activities in the PNP-AFP-declared insurgency-free Iloilo City. Critics, especially those who experienced this a year ago, argue that individuals with malicious intent could have alternative communication methods unaffected by local cell network disruptions, rendering signal jamming futile. Instead, City Mayor Jerry Treñas recently proposed that police authorities adopt more comprehensive security strategies for the Dinagyang Festival. He suggested round-the-clock deployment of officers and the utilization of highly-trained bomb-sniffing dogs. In addition, he called for an increased presence of uniformed officers and force multipliers across various event venues, ensuring a heightened security blanket throughout the festival.
One of the most critical disadvantages of signal jamming is the hindrance it causes in accessing emergency services. It prevents tens of thousands of people—not just in Iloilo City but also those in Guimaras and many nearby municipalities, even the Iloilo International Airport—from contacting emergency responders, authorities, or even family and friends during crises, potentially leading to dangerous situations.
As experienced, signal jamming during the Dinagyang Festival can significantly impact the local economy. Businesses that rely on constant connectivity (E-commerce and tech companies, financial institutions, telecoms, online service providers, remote work businesses, streaming services, online education, digital marketing agencies, logistics and delivery services, healthcare services, news and media outlets, hospitality and travel services) suffer due to disrupted operations, leading to financial losses and hampering economic activities in the region.
For residents and visitors alike, the inability to communicate during the festival results in considerable inconvenience. It creates challenges in coordinating meetups, sharing information about the event, and even navigating the area. Signal jamming also raises concerns about infringing fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and access to information. This control method can be perceived as censorship, limiting what individuals can access and share. Extreme signal jamming, considered a lazy shotgun approach, likewise sets a concerning precedent. It opens the door for potentially misusing this power for less justifiable reasons, infringing on personal freedoms and privacy rights.
While signal jamming during the Dinagyang Festival aims to enhance security and manage crowds, the disadvantages seem to outweigh the perceived benefits. The method’s effectiveness in preventing threats is questionable, and the broader implications for emergency communication, economic activities, public convenience, rights infringement, and international perception are significant. It is crucial to reassess the necessity and proportionality of signal jamming as a security measure and explore alternative methods that do not compromise fundamental freedoms and societal well-being.
Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.