Press Release
June 2, 2009

Privilege Speech of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile

Mr. President:

I rise this afternoon on a matter of personal privilege to bring to your attention a matter which, I believe, involves the interest of the general public and which demands action from the Senate.

Mr. President, I have two Globe mobile cellular telephones. One is with my security aide and the other is with me. The cellular phone with my security aide is post paid. I use it regularly to make calls. My other cellular telephone is a prepaid unit. I use my prepaid unit as a spare to make calls when my security aide is not around, especially at night when I have no security on duty.

Last Monday, May 25, 2009, I used my prepaid unit to make a call. A voice recorder intoned that my prepaid unit had no load, that it had a zero balance. I was amazed because at seven o'clock in the morning of that day my prepaid unit had a balance of Three Hundred Eighty Nine Pesos (P389.00).

The next day, Tuesday, May 26, I loaded Six Hundred Pesos (P600.00) in my prepaid unit. At eight o'clock in the evening of that same day, the Six Hundred Pesos (P600.00) load was down to Five Hundred Nineteen Pesos (P519.00). I never used the cellular telephone at all that day.

The next day, Wednesday, May 27, at seven o'clock in the morning, the Five Hundred Nineteen Pesos (P519.00) balance the night before went down to Four Hundred Forty-Five Pesos (P445.00). My prepaid cellular phone was closed and never used throughout the night before.

This unusual happening made me wonder. I asked my secretary to report the matter to Globe Telecom and request for an explanation. I was simply curious to know why my load was declining even though I was not using my prepaid unit. I was not thinking of any misconduct or wrong-doing on the part of the service provider. I just wanted to unravel the mystery of my dwindling load.

On my way to the Senate, I called Chairman Rowell Canovas of the National Telecommunications Commission. I related to him about my disappearing load. He promised to check it immediately. My conversation with Chairman Canovas was in the morning.

At eight o'clock in the evening of that same Wednesday, May 27, I was even more dumbfounded when I found out that the dwindling load of my prepaid unit suddenly and mysteriously rose to Five Hundred Thirty-Four Pesos and Thirty Two Centavos (P534.32). I did not add any additional amount to the load of my prepaid unit, and no one ever did.

I mentioned my amazing experience during a session of the Oversight Committee on Tax Revenues. I think some members of the media overheard me, and they interviewed me later on about it.

The next day, the story of my disappearing prepaid load was written about in the print media. Truly, Mr. President, I was astounded by the reaction of the public. A flood of calls and texts reached me from alleged victims of the same thing.

When I was in the towns of Alaminos, Anda, Bolinao, and Bani in Pangasinan and in Santa Cruz in Zambales last Friday, the people there also complained about the same thing.

Mr. President, it seems that my experience with my prepaid cellular telephone unit is widespread. I was told that the National Telecommunications Commission had investigated complaints of similar nature before, but nothing came out of that investigation. And yet, most of the alleged victims are ordinary citizens who do not have the political and economic clout to protect themselves. They need the help of this Senate.

Mr. President, I am not prepared as yet to pass judgment on the telecommunication companies and the NTC without the Senate hearing the side of all the parties concerned. But I am duty-bound to make them explain why this is happening and to hold them accountable to the public from whom they earn their huge profits. This representation and most of us here in this Chamber can probably afford to shell out money to keep buying the cell phone load we need without even noticing that there is something wrong. But the general public, mostly belonging to the low and middle income sectors of our society, are crying out with disgust over this injustice. They are helpless against these practices which they say, and I don't blame them, amounts to robbery.

Having said this, I have likewise received a barrage of complaints from citizens across all social and economic classes. After all, whether rich or poor, everyone is entitled to protection from these pernicious practices, if indeed they are intended as a scheme to dupe the public, or from the negligence and inability of the service providers and the government's regulatory agencies to address them.

I simply want the Senate to ferret out the truth. Is the case of the "disappearing load" like what happened to me a result of technical error? Is it the result of the negligent conduct of some employees of the service providers? Or is it being done dubiously, systematically and intentionally for gain? Who profits from it? Is any law violated? If a law was violated, what has the National Telecommunications Commission done about it? And if the NTC acted upon this problem, why has it continued to victimize the public and deprived them of the service that they paid for with their hard-earned money? Why has it reached this magnitude such that the people have become very angry and suspicious that this is a grand scheme to rob them.

Another thing I learned, Mr. President, was that prepaid loads are allegedly required to be used within a certain period of time. Otherwise, the prepaid loads would expire and the payment received for these are forfeited in favor of the telecommunication companies. Mr. President, the Senate should also look into this matter. What law allows such a confiscatory practice? Was this practice authorized by the National Telecommunications Commission? If it did, what was its legal basis in allowing it? Mr. President, the practice is unconscionable and it must be stopped to protect the general public unless there is an acceptable technical reason behind imposing an expiration date for the use of these pre-paid cards. That, I have yet to hear and understand, if there is any.

I believe, Mr. President, the matters I related deserve the immediate and resolute attention of the Senate. Our citizenry deserve our protection. It is about time we act to spare them from any such predatory practices.

And so, I move, Mr. President, that the Committee on Trade and Industry and the Committee on Public Services jointly conduct an immediate inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the matters I have stated so that the root causes of this problem can be identified, possible solutions can be immediately undertaken and the necessary remedial legislation can be devised to protect our consuming public.

Before I end, I wish to make it known that since the necessary public hearing may not be conducted as soon as we would like to because we are about to adjourn sine die, I am inviting all parties who have encountered this same or similar problems with the cell phone loads they purchased to lodge their complaints in my office. I have set up a special desk manned by my staff to receive all reports and complaints in relation to this and to collate all these materials which I will present at the public hearing. I am certain that my colleagues in this Chamber will see from all these accounts from the public that indeed the people are indignant and that we have to act with urgency.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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