The repurposed watchtower used to restore the cellular signal on Pag-asa Island. // Image by MP Albayda


The Philippine cellular signal on Pag-asa Island, an island that houses the largest civilian settlement of Kalayaan town in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), was restored on Saturday after being down since 2017.

Telecommunications giant Smart Communications repurposed a dilapidated watchtower on Pag-asa Island, tapping a national cellular network capable of sustaining phone calls and text messages.

Maurice Phillip Albayda, municipal information officer, said Sunday morning that the development would aid in “monitoring” of the locals residing on the remote island.

“Communication is quintessential to our life, with the need of our constituents in the island to communicate with their loved ones. The monitoring of every development [on the island] is necessary,” Albayda said.

Since 2017, the signal frequency on the island has been fluctuating, either too weak or in-existent, after the booster was eaten away by rust, which is a typical problem for iron equipment exposed to sea air that catalyzes corrosion.

Albayda added that the telecom company has also bared plans on upgrading the signal to LTE/5G that can support internet connectivity.

The country’s top defense officials, government officers, and media representatives, during the Kalayaan beach ramp inauguration on June 9, received text messages saying “Welcome to China” and “Welcome to Vietnam,” while standing on Philippine soil.

The Pag-asa Island remotely lies around 480 kilometers west of Puerto Princesa City, in an area at the West Philippine Sea where roaming coverage signals from mobile service providers of other countries overlap.

Around 184 civilians live on the 37-hectare Pag-asa Island, mostly comprised of fisherfolks. They were dependent on analog radio signals and roaming services to communicate to the “outside world”.