October 9, 2020 (6:01 PM)

6 min read


Artwork by Jake Salvaleon

Amid policy recommendations calling for the use of satellite technology to improve internet connectivity in the Philippines, Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) Aerospace Engineering Chair Dr. Rogel Mari Sese disclosed that the major impediment on utilizing the said technology lies in legal restrictions.

Sese explained that the Executive Order No. 467 issued in 1998, signed by former President Fidel V. Ramos, hinders the operation of satellite technology since it requires telecommunication companies to obtain a congressional franchise prior to its operations.

“Unfortunately it takes time before magkaroon ng congressional franchise, kasi you have to lobby it in Congress,” Sese said.

He further criticized the 1998 law and how the mismatch between the old analog laws passed 22 years ago in the digital era only complicated the matter.

“Kasi that is a 1998 law and the technology in 1998 is very much different compared to the technology that we have right now.

“There are efforts right now [in addressing the old analog laws] but in Congress kasi it would take a while before you can have a law passed. On average, if it is not a priority bill, our laws get passed around 3 to 12 years,” Sese added.

To address the legal restriction and the immediate need for wider access to internet connectivity, Sese discussed two alternatives which the government planned to take.

One was for the president to issue an executive order which would authorize the use of satellite technology without the need for a congressional franchise.

The other would be to rely on local telecommunications companies that already have congressional franchises to partner with foreign satellite technology operators to distribute its connectivity throughout the country. 

“There are moves right now to improve that, hopefully in a few months or so, an executive order would be issued by the president to address that,” he said.

Current state of Philippine internet connectivity 

In comparison to other countries in Southeast Asia, Sese revealed that the Philippines is the only major country in Southeast Asia that did not have its own national telecommunication satellite.

“Indonesia has it. Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam have it. India has a lot of them. Laos, Myanmar also [have their] own. Even Bangladesh, going outside of SEA, has its own telecommunication satellite,” he mentioned.

He pointed out that some of these countries even perform lower than the Philippines when it comes to a nation’s economic aspect.

“So the argument that satellite technology is only for rich countries is no longer true in the current state of the world right now, because it has come to the point that satellite access is more affordable and more accessible, even developing countries are able to have that kind of technology,” he said.

He explained that in every 10 percent of the population that gains internet connectivity, it translates in the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well. Its improvement can also have a lasting Domino effect on the different sectors of public service.

“It’s a shame kasi the technology [is] already accessible, it’s there, bakit hindi mo siya gagamitin to improve the quality of life and to improve the state of connectivity in the country.

“Hindi lang naman education ang magbebenefit niyan, you have other sectors, like health, we can have telemedicine. Access to agriculture, which opens local farmers to the bigger market to  directly sell their goods online, so higher income. Social services and finances like automated teller machines in the remote locations [will be accessible], [there is a] growth of banking technology,” he added.

Sese remarked that “in this day and age, connectivity access is no longer a privilege, it’s a right.”

On COVID-19 impact and online education

The lack of internet connectivity, as Sese expressed, posed a problem when it came to online education especially amid the pandemic.

Providing background on the immediate need to utilize satellite technology, Sese cited a research conducted by Raul Vincent Lumapas of the AdDU Information Technology Department.

The research revealed that 40 percent of Filipinos did not have access to internet connection because major telecommunications companies in the country relied solely on ground-based infrastructures that limited accessibility to remote areas.

“In rural areas, those living in remote communities, those living in the far-flung areas, it is not a matter of whether the internet connectivity is slow or not, the question now changes to ‘do they have connectivity or not?’

“So that’s a much bigger challenge for us right now and if we want to be as much inclusive as possible, we have to look into solutions that can address these access issues in a way how access should be provided not just in urban areas but also in remote communities,” he added.

Out of almost 47,000 public schools all over the country, Sese discussed that 52 percent of those were not connected to the internet. 

Even in state universities, a significant portion of 80 percent was not equipped for online classes, according to him.

He revealed that within the country, it was actually in Mindanao that had the highest percentage of barangays without internet access, particularly in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) area.

“Around 87 percent of the barangays in BARMM area have no internet access,” he claimed.

Embracing satellite technology, according to him, would help address this connectivity issue since it no longer needed the ground infrastructures like fiber optic networks, cell sites, and cell towers that would connect to remote areas. 

“You can connect anywhere and that is one of the major advantages of satellite technology… Basically, anywhere that you can access the sky, you can have satellite connectivity. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the forest, or in a remote island or in the middle of the ocean,” he said.

“Connect Mindanao: Internet Para sa Lahat” campaign

The SAMAHAN launched its student-led campaign for internet democracy, “Connect Mindanao: Internet Para sa Lahat,” calling for the youth to invest in information dissemination efforts to explore points regarding the internet situation in Mindanao and launch a nation-wide signature campaign for satellite technology accessibility.

“It is a reality that we are deprived of the internet service and infrastructure that we all deserve. That is why, I believe it is time that we speak our minds, do our part, and challenge the institutions whose job is to provide service for the Filipinos,” SAMAHAN Secretary-General Samantha Claire Cayona posted.

“I believe that it is the responsibility of those who have internet access to work and to provide connectivity to those who have none. Join the move for internet democracy!” Cayona urged.

As of September 26, the campaign had garnered 1,615 signatures. The petition could be accessed via connect.addu.edu.ph.

End the silence of the gagged!

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