Amateur Radio in the Philippines
Editor Don G3XTT visits the Philippines
Editor Don G3XTT visits the Philippines and wonders whether some of the initiatives being taken elsewhere in the world have lessons for amateur radio in the UK.
I recently spent a week in the Philippines, not specifically for amateur radio but, such is the nature of our hobby, I was welcomed by several Filipino radio amateurs and had the opportunity to visit PARA, the Philippine Amateur Radio Association. I always find it interesting to compare and contrast aspects of the hobby in different countries. I felt it worth a short article to talk about the state of the hobby in that country. I hope you agree.
The Philippines is a huge country, stretching hundreds of miles from north to south by way of a large number of islands. The country sits on a geological fault line (the Pacific Line of Fire) so is prone to volcanic activity and also suffers extremes of weather, particularly during the rainy season – their rain is of a different order of magnitude to what we typically experience in the UK! They can expect around 20 typhoons during each rainy season.
Politically, there are parts of the country where there is unrest and the island of Mindanao, in particular, has a Muslim majority who would like to secede from the rest of the country. Historically, Mindanao has been Muslim for many hundreds of years, while much of the rest of the country is Catholic as a result of some 400 years or so of Spanish rule. More recently, the US ruled for 50 years up to the end of WWII so most people speak English as well as Filipino. From an amateur radio point of view, of course, should Mindanao secede and become independent, we would presumably have another DXCC entity to chase.
As with many Asian countries, the population is relatively young, increasingly tech-savvy (everyone has a mobile phone, shops offer a range of ways of using your mobile to pay for goods and so on). One amateur commented to me that for young Filipinos, mobile phones take priority over meals – they would rather go hungry than run out of credit on their phones!
Amateur Radio in the Philippines
There is a strong tradition of amateur radio in the Philippines centred to a large extent on public service. This continues to be the case. Given the ever-present risk of extreme weather and other natural disasters, there is official recognition that amateur radio is a resource to be supported. HF DXing and contesting is somewhat more difficult. The main cities (the capital is Manila) are densely populated and it is by no means easy to erect decent antennas. And even when you do, electrical noise is ever present. The ideal is a rural location but those who live in rural areas are usually subsistence farmers without the interest or the money to take up amateur radio. On the other hand, there is significant interest in the Islands on the Air (IOTA) awards programme because there are many IOTA groups across the Philippines, many of them relatively easy to access for a fun DXpedition.
There are four classes of licence, Foundation, Novice, General and Extra, with increasing privileges as each higher level is achieved. There is still a 5WPM Morse test to reach the highest licence level but those who get there are allowed to run up to 2kW of power! The prefixes DU or 4F, DV, DW and DY are used for the four licence classes, with the DX and DZ prefixes reserved for special event and DXpedition callsigns. There are also prefixes starting 4E, 4G, 4H and 4I, again according to licence class. Filipino amateurs may also hold up to three vanity callsigns (short calls such as DU1A), each valid for a maximum of three years. The various prefixes are summarised in the sidebar.
All licences attract an annual fee although it’s quite modest in UK terms. However, all transmitters must be registered with the authorities and there is a registration fee, less for handhelds than, say, for a base station transceiver. You can do this registration yourself but in some cases the vendor will help with the paperwork.
Recruitment into amateur radio comes from from CB, from those interested particularly in public service communications and from those using the amateur bands illegally. This latter is not something we experience in the UK but is all too common in the Philippines. But rather than see these intruders as a threat, PARA sees an opportunity to attract them to the legal side of the hobby.
There has yet to be a full changeover to digital TV, with 57MHz still used for analogue TV broadcasting, a problem for 6m band operators. The reason for keeping analogue going is that many of the poorer members of the population cannot afford to upgrade their TVs to digital. Again, though, for the younger generation this less of a problem – they want to watch video on demand on their phones!
Talking about digital, the digital voice modes have yet to take off in a big way because the equipment is so much more expensive than, say, a Chinese-made FM handheld. That said, DMR is starting to grow, largely because DMR gear is cheaper than D-STAR or C4FM. There is also a growing interest in the FT8 mode – it offers the possibility of making QSOs with low power and limited antennas, which is the lot of many Filipino amateurs.
PARA are fortunate that, thanks to the official support for amateur radio that I mentioned above, some four years ago they were provided with office space in the regulator’s office building (the equivalent of the RSGB being given space by OFCOM). This came about largely as a result of a request to PARA from the regulator (National Telecommunications Commission – NTC) to train up operators for the official emergency net, which comes into action after natural or other disasters. It quickly became clear that the two organisations could help each other – there are now, in effect, two country-wide emergency nets that can be brought into action, one on commercial frequencies and one on amateur frequencies.
PARA has two full-time staff but otherwise relies on volunteers. Just a few years ago the membership was around the 600 mark but is now above 3000, so they must be doing something right. The total amateur radio population of the country is around 7000.
Training and Development
The regulations require that anyone aspiring to an amateur radio licence must have completed a one-day seminar. These are run by PARA on every second weekend of the month at their offices, although PARA volunteers also travel to other provinces to run seminars when there is sufficient demand.
PARA also run various other types of training, including working with the Girl Scout movement once in the Spring and with the Boy Scout movement once each autumn (I use these seasonal terms in a European sense – the Philippines has two seasons – summer and the rainy season!). As in many Asian countries, these youth organisations are well supported.
PARA has, thanks to the generosity of various Filipino amateurs, also been able to set up school radio clubs in various provinces. The schools chosen are ones with an emphasis on technical education and obviously it is hoped that these initiatives will lead to new, young blood coming into the hobby. If nothing else, it will increase awareness of amateur radio. The schools expect the students to gain a basic amateur radio licence to complement their theoretical studies.
PARA lacks the resources to produce a regular magazine but finds that Facebook is an excellent way of reaching members and promoting itself to the population at large – a case of social media being beneficial to the hobby rather than competing with it.
I cannot end this piece without thanking those amateurs I met in the Philippines for their kindness and hospitality. I particularly enjoyed my time spent at PARA on one of their training days, which attract not only would-be amateurs but existing ones too – these days have turned into informal get-togethers with a great atmosphere. People bring food and it turns into one big buffet and party. Great fun!
Philippine Callsign Prefixes
DU or 4F – Extra Class (You have the option to change from DU to 4F)
DV – General Class
DW – Technician Class
DY – Foundation class
New sets of callsigns (see note, below)
4E - Extra Class
4I – General Class
4G – Technician Class
4H – Foundation class
Note that, for example, DU1ABC is different from 4E1ABC
This article was featured in the September 2018 issue of Practical Wireless