WITH the April 26 deadline for registration of phone SIM (subscriber identification module) cards rapidly approaching, fears are growing that the “told you so” warning of many critics of the SIM Registration Law — that millions of subscribers will lose their communication services — are about to be realized. While the idea behind the law is sound, and even appears to be having the intended effect of reducing fraud and criminal activity, its unrealistic requirements will cause a social and economic disaster if some adjustments to facilitate SIM registration are not made.
Republic Act (RA) 11934, or the “SIM Registration Act,” mandates that all SIM users have until April 26, 2023 to register their SIMs under their names by presenting a government-issued ID to verify their identity. Failure to do so will result in deactivation of the SIM. RA 11934 was enacted to prevent the use of SIM cards in the proliferation of text scams and other mobile phone-aided criminal activities.
As of now, the country's two major telecommunication companies, Globe and PLDT, are reporting that only 30 to 40 percent of their prepaid subscribers, who make up the overwhelming majority of cell phone users in the country, have registered so far. Data from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) last week indicated that about 57 million of the estimated 168 million SIM cards in the country have been registered. There are obviously more SIM cards than there are people in the country as many have more than one phone number, but the best estimates of the number of actual customers are about 87 million people. About 5 million of those are postpaid subscribers who were automatically registered by their telecom providers, which suggests that the best-case scenario based on the DICT's figures is that at least 25 million people, or nearly a quarter of the population, are about to lose their mobile numbers, and access to the services connected to them.
This is an alarming prospect, because not only will these people suddenly be cut off from communicating easily with others, many online services, such as mobile money services, are connected to one's cell phone number. Any unregistered user with a GCash or Maya account, for example, will lose access to his or her money in that account. Likewise, the telecom companies have pointed out the obvious risk that suddenly losing millions of subscribers has for their businesses. It is not far-fetched to imagine that dropping several million mobile users all at once would result in a severe economic shock.
On Monday, the DICT reported that it is planning to meet with telecommunications stakeholders to discuss the looming problem, and the telecom companies' request that the registration deadline be extended, and that alternative forms of identification be accepted for SIM registration, such as school or work ID. Given the potential outcome if the request is not granted, this is entirely reasonable and permissible under the law, and we urge the DICT to act accordingly. Other suggestions, such as opening temporary sites for in-person registration in malls and government offices, should also be seriously considered.
Some fine-tuning needed
However, accommodations for those who have not yet registered their SIM cards should not be so flexible as to undermine what the SIM Registration Act was intended to do. It is a sound idea, and the early results of its implementation indicate that it has curbed the epidemic of text scams we were all experiencing a few months ago. Last month, the DICT reported that complaints it received about text scams had dropped from more than 1,500 per day to about 100 per day. Facilitating SIM registration should only go so far as to provide an opportunity, for a reasonable but limited period of time, for those who wish to register but have been unable to do so due to a lack of access or having the specific identification documents required. More than that risks rendering the law ineffective. Likewise, calls to scrap the law entirely, including a petition to that effect filed by some leftist groups at the Supreme Court, should be ignored. It is a good law, and we have consistently supported it; it just simply needs some fine-tuning in its implementation.
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