Everyone is excited with the upcoming launch of the government’s hotlines: the 8888 for citizens’ complaints and 911 for emergency cases.  These are set to go live beginning Monday, August 1, 2016 as part of the government’s drive to promote safety and security in the country, as well as discourage unethical practices and behavior of government employees.

Everything’s coming up roses except for one of the country’s leading telecommunications company.  Contrary to the public’s expectation that calling these numbers are free from charges, the telco company announced that they will be imposing a fixed rate of Php 5.00 for calls to the 911 emergency response hotline and regular charges for calls made to 8888.

Their reason?  To discourage prank callers from abusing the access.

In the U.S., all types of phones have built-in capability to call the 911 emergency hotline: no extra charges, no balance requirements for those using prepaid services.  Each state has its own laws against the use and abuse of the 911 service to discourage prank calls.

And since all phones are equipped with free and easy access to 911, operators are trained to treat each call as an emergency.  Even in cases when they don’t hear the caller’s voice, they dispatch rescue teams to the area where the call is coming from.  If a person accidentally dials 911 and then immediately hangs up, a police officer nearest to the caller’s area will ring him back just to be sure that he is safe and does not need emergency care.

The operative phrase here is: they have laws that govern the public’s access to the emergency response system.  No one is above it, not even the phone companies.

On Monday, we will already be able to call these hotline numbers that are supposed to rescue us from our emergencies and hear us out when we have complaints against erring government employees.  But for those using the services of this telco company, the access is limited to their cell phone’s load.  If you have enough, then you can call.  If not, magpa load ka muna.  If all else fails, swallow your pride and get a load loan.  Yes, mangutang ka!  Borrow the amount you need to make a call and get yourself rescued.  The next time you buy load for your phone, the telco’s system will simply debit the amount you loaned.

We will remember that the 911 emergency service has long been in full operation in the city of Davao.  Mayor Duterte (now President of the Philippines) found an effective way to minimize prank callers by publicly reading out the phone numbers of pranksters during his weekly TV program “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa”.  We wonder if this will work on a national level.

Is it right to charge calls made to 8888 and 911 when the primary objective of these hotline numbers is to provide public assistance?

When a person is in an emergency and does not have enough prepaid credits on his phone to make a successful call to 911, how will the government’s best efforts apply to him?

Should the burden of keeping the integrity of these emergency services be placed on the shoulders of the public by making them pay every time they request for assistance?

Feel free to let us know what you think about this issue.

Excuse us while we get cell phone load.