POSTSCRIPT / August 27, 2015 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Chn has grabbed Phl satellite slot in space!

NOT SATISFIED with grabbing land, sea and air space from its neighbors, China has also taken over a satellite communication slot of the Philippines in outer space.

Military sources told Postscript over the weekend that China has grabbed and now occupies one of the two geo-orbital slots in space that used to belong to the Philippines. That slot, which is 98 degrees East longitude, is now reportedly occupied by a Chinese military satellite.

The government may not immediately have the resources or inclination to grab it back or launch its own communication satellite to assert its rightful place in the sky, but we have been told there are private groups ready and willing to do it.

One official move the government might want to take in reclaiming its slot is to seek the support of the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) in kicking out the Chinese squatter satellite suspected of being used to eavesdrop on messages and activities in the West Philippine Sea.

The fact that the ITU’s newly installed Secretary-General Houlin Zhao is a Chinese should not deter the Philippines from pressing the return of the slot that has been historically assigned to it.

In preparation, the government in tandem with the private sector must be ready to jump into the slot and use it once it is restored.

Chinese jam Spratlys GPS signals

MILITARY sources recalled how three Supreme Court justices led by senior associate justice Antonio Carpio visited Pagasa, the largest island in the Spratly group being claimed by China. It has a thriving Filipino community and a Philippine flag proudly and defiantly flying over it.

Although Pagasa has a short airstrip, there are no commercial flights servicing it. The only way to fly there, apart from a private charter, is via an Air Force C-130 (takes 1.5 hours from Puerto Princesa) or the NOMAD, an eight-seat propeller-driven plane that makes it in two-plus hours.

Recently, engineers who tend to a VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) system on the island were flying there on a C-130 when troubled by the jamming of the plane’s GPS (Ground Positioning System) by the Chinese. The pilots had to pull out the maps and do manual landing.

And Beijing talks of free navigation in the area while harassing neighbors and countless ships and aircraft passing through.

It is just my impression, but the Philippine government seems to be no longer quick to trust the Chinese on matters impinging on national security – such as information and communication technologies.

Officials are saying in hindsight that it may have been providential that then President Gloria Arroyo scrapped in 2007 the $329-million national broadband network being pushed by the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE amid allegations of corruption.

Recently one of the largest Chinese state-owned enterprises was negotiating to set up a 50-megawatt solar farm on a local site, but the government discouraged it for fear or suspicion of the Chinese possibly mounting surveillance equipment on the panels, or whatever.

Satellites can quicken telco speed

NOW the Philippines has to secure its own orbital slot, in case a decision is made to launch a satellite and catch up on the neighbors. Slots are administered by Geneva-based ITU, a specialized United Nations agency that satellite owners and operators deal with.

We have not had a satellite since the launching of one and only one Mabuhay that was majority owned by the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., but hardly used.

In 2009, PLDT subsidiary Mabuhay Satellite Corp. sold the Agila-2 satellite (launched in 1999) to Asia Broadcast Satellite, an entity with foreign interests. Agila was not optimally used as PLDT and other telcos preferred to rely more on fiber networks.

Most of our neighbors have two or more satellites in the sky. Japan has 20; Indonesia, 13; Thailand, 9; Malaysia, 5; Singapore, 4; Taiwan, 3; and Vietnam, 2. Laos and Cambodia are reportedly set to launch their own satellite in 2016, and Myanmar in 2017.

The Philippines has none. For more reliable satellite communications, the Philippines depends on the more costly transponder leases from satellite operators of competitor nations.

For telecommunications, the Philippines uses mainly fiber-optics and submarine cables. But the major earthquakes in Taiwan (2006) and Japan (2011) showed how vulnerable submarine cables are. Unlike satellites in orbit, damage to them disrupts telecommunication and Internet services.

There is also the matter of security. The termination modes of most, if not all, of the fiber optics networks are in Hong Kong, an administrative region of China.

Industry sources said congestion and inefficiencies of present fiber-based data communications, plus the needs for more secure networks have brought to the fore the VSAT system. But VSAT relies on expensive satellite usage that is still provided here by foreign operators.

Local telco networks suffering from heavy traffic can benefit from a Philippine-owned satellite that will pluck them from being the laggard in the region. At present, the Philippines has among the most expensive and yet the slowest Internet connection speed.

Compare the Philippines’ dismal average speed of 2.5 Mbps (MegaBits per second) with South Korea, 25.3 Mbps; Hong Kong, 16.3; Japan, 15.0; Singapore, 12.2; US, 11.5; Taiwan, 9.5; Thailand, 6.6; China, 4.8; Malaysia, 4.1; Indonesia, 3.7; and Vietnam, 2.5 Mbps.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 27, 2015)

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