Sunday, June 19, 2005

RP’s remotest town now just a cellphone call away

The Philippine STAR 06/18/2005

The country’s remotest municipality marked Independence Day free from isolation, thanks to modern technology. A cellular site built on Kalayaan Island in the Spratlys was activated on the eve of the national holiday.

Smart Communications Inc., the country’s leading wireless company, set up the cellular site in the town’s sole barangay, Pag-asa Island, about 800 kilometers from Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, proving that no place is too far to link up to its network.

Kalayaan Mayor Rosendo Mantes said he was optimistic that with telecommunication facilities in place, development was sure to follow.

He hopes this would boost the town’s potentials for tourism and commercial fishing.

He received the first call at 5:18 p.m. of June 11 from Vladimir Pascual, senior manager of Smart’s Network Services Division (NSD)-Project Manage-ment and Implementation for South Luzon. Pascual led the engineering team which set up the cellsite.

Pag-asa, the largest of eight islands in the Spratlys claimed by the Philippines, is home to about 300 soldiers and locals who have virtually been living in isolation. There are no regular commercial trips to and from the island and communi-cation is limited to radio facilities owned by the military.

"We are committed to serving the communication needs of Filipinos, even in far-flung areas," says Rolando Peña, Smart’s NSD head.

Smart’s extensive and modern GSM network and infrastructure covers 97 percent of the population. As of end-March 2005, its GSM network consisted of 36 switches and over 5,400 base stations, serving some 20.2 million subscribers.

Mantes thanked former Energy Secretary Vince Perez, Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and Vice Admiral Ruben Domingo for helping make the construction of the cellsite a reality.

The Spratlys, a group of approximately 100 reefs and islets in the South China Sea, is surrounded by rich fishing grounds and gas and oil deposits.

The People’s Republic of China, Taiwan and Vietnam are laying claim sovereignty over the entire group, while Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei are claiming parts of the group.

A group of civilians from Palawan were persuaded to resettle in Pag-asa in September 2002 and start a municipality and strengthen the country’s claim on the Kalayaan Island Group.

Many have since left and now live in various parts of Palawan. The municipality has opened an extension office in Puerto Princesa City.

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