Globe, Smart offer free calls, texts in war-torn Marawi

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 22) — Both of the country's largest telecommunications companies are now offering free calls and texts to subscribers affected by the Marawi crisis.

Smart Communications said in a Friday statement that starting June 23, Marawi residents who are Smart, TNT and Sun prepaid subscribers can have free calls and texts within the three networks for the next 15 days.

Smart also said the service is open to residents still caught in Marawi City, as well as residents who have evacuated the besieged area.

The company added that eligible subscribers will get a notification within the next few days to inform them how they can avail of the call and text services without incurring charges.

"We realize that mobile communication serves as a vital lifeline in disaster and crisis situations," said PLDT and Smart Public Affairs Head Ramon Isberto. "By providing our special service to those affected by the ongoing conflict in Marawi, we enable our brothers and sisters to reconnect with their loved ones and draw strength from each other in these trying times."

The company also said it has put up Libreng Tawag stations at evacuation centers in Iligan City and assisted in distributing relief goods and personal hygiene kits at evacuation centers in Lanao del Norte.

Globe offer started June 22

Smart's move comes after Globe Telecom announced on June 22 that it will offer free call and text services in Marawi City as part of the efforts to help troops and civilians connect with authorities and their loved ones.

The Ayala-run telco said prepaid subscribers will be able to send texts to all networks and make calls to all Globe and Touch Mobile numbers at no cost - even without any remaining load on their phones.

However, mobile data use will not be covered.

The promo started on June 22 and will run for 15 days. Afterwards, Globe will evaluate extending the offer depending on the situation in Marawi City.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) welcomed the project, saying it would be a boost to the troops' morale.

It would also help the estimated 300-500 civilians still trapped in the city, who may have no means to communicate their location or their status.

"Even just a simple message of saying 'I'm alright' can mean so much," Major General Jose Tanjuan, Jr. said during the launch on Thursday.

Globe President and CEO Ernest Cu said his team had initially thought of sending out SIM cards and prepaid load cards to Marawi City, but found it would take more time to deliver the packages.

"We thought it would be faster and cover more people if we just opened up our networks. So, when our cell towers in the Marawi area recognize a Globe SIM, it will not be charged for calls or texts," Cu said.

Concerns over helping terrorists

Officials, however, had to parry questions over whether Maute fighters would likewise benefit from the free Globe service.

Cu admitted there was no way of checking who was using Globe's cell services - much less know which of those in Marawi are affiliated with the terror group.

But he pointed out that the Maute Group already have the means to communicate.

"They're a well-funded organization. They are prepared for this because of all the funding they got. They're already communicating among themselves through our cell sites - that's why they haven't shot them down or blown it up," he said.

"There is no incremental benefit to the Maute Group," Cu added. "But it's the poor people of Marawi and the AFP that have to pay for our service."

Tanjuan likewise assured security would be the top priority of the AFP regardless. Cell towers, both of Globe and Smart, will still be shut down whenever the military has to conduct special operations in the war-torn city.

(Story updated 5:50 p.m. of June 24 to include Smart's statement.)