By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

SIM card registration, alerts, mañana and operant conditioning

“Sometimes success is less about making good habits easy and more about making bad habits hard.” – James Clear

Last Sunday, Globe users in the Philippines were jolted by emergency alerts sent to their phones reminding them to register their SIM cards before the deadline. The alert with its unique jarring tone is normally used by the government to warn citizens of disasters or emergencies. Many of those who received the alert were upset for what they perceive was an improper use of the emergency alert system.

In response to these criticisms, Globe Group President and CEO Ernest Cu stated that “We are at a critical time as the deadline draws near, and we want to ensure that our customers are compliant with the law to avoid SIM deactivation. This way, they will continue to enjoy our call, text and data services for their day-to-day needs.” In another press release, Globe also defended their use of the emergency cell broadcast system (ECB) by stating that it was done to “instill urgency on millions of customers who have yet to register their SIMs.

Republic Act 11934 or the SIM Card Registration Law mandates the registration of all SIM cards with deactivation as a consequence of noncompliance. Apparently, Globe felt that extreme measures were warranted because of the low SIM registration numbers days prior to the deadline.

As of April 23, National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) data show that only about 82,845,397, or 49.31 percent of SIM cards in this country have been registered. For Globe in particular, only 37,099,437 or 42.77 percent of its users have registered while 39,949,785 or 60.25 percent of SMART subscribers have registered their SIMs.

Why is the registration compliance number so low? There have been many reasons put forth by both proponents and opponents of the implementation of the law. Opponents claim that low connectivity, lack of proper ID’s and even low phone quality have prevented many SIM owners from registering. Both government and proponents of the law seemed to have zeroed in on the oft maligned Filipino habit of “mañana” or procrastination as the main culprit. We have seen this habit manifested in tax payments and even election registration where Filipinos wait for the last day to pay taxes or register for the right to vote and overwhelm the system.

It seems that both government and the large telco’s are implementing a strategy centered on countering this Filipino habit of waiting for the last minute to act. Setting a deadline with warning of dire consequences and extreme inconvenience, the emergency alert and the creative advertisements of telcos warning the people of the negative consequences of not registering on time are part of this strategy. Clearly, the proponents are employing a form of active operant conditioning.
Operant conditioning is a process by which humans (or animals) learn to behave in a particular way to obtain rewards and avoid punishment. The classic example of active operant conditioning is the experiment involving a rat, a lever, a green light, and a red light. In this experiment, if the rat presses the lever when the green light is on, the rat will receive a food pellet. If the rat presses the lever when a red light is on, it will receive a mild electric shock. The objective of operant conditioning is to remove or minimize the unwanted behavior by imposing negative consequences. It is undisputable that mañana is a habit that must be curbed and minimized. As such, operant conditioning in this instance is not only acceptable but also necessary.  
Yesterday, the government extended the deadline for registration of the said SIMs. Many criticized the move as defeating the purpose of the deadline. However, the SIM Card Registration Act does allow for an extension and the government has imposed gradual phase out of services. Also, the extension has given the Government the opportunity to address some of the legitimate issues such as the problem of remote areas and the use of Barangay ID’s for the registration purpose. This has inculcated the appropriate amount of empathy to the operant conditioning efforts.  
Days prior to the original deadline, SIM registration surged immensely. Apparently, operant conditioning has achieved part of its objectives. Hopefully the new hard deadline will convince more to drop this last-minute habit.
This is my oblique observation.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.