December 13, 1993

                                                                       Stupid Neglect

        By definition a geosynchronous communications satellite must be in orbit 22,300 miles above the equator. A satellite in such an orbit revolves around the earth as quickly as the earth rotates on its axis -- and so the satellite appears to be permanently positioned over the same spot on this planet. And because the communications satellite is stationary relative to the earth, telecommunications facilities on earth can send or receive signals from the satellite quite easily and cheaply.
        The International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) has at least a dozen communications satellites in orbit. Apart from these there are the satellites placed into orbit by individual countries.
        As early as ten years ago, the National Geographic magazine described the situation as follows: "Almost every month, another communications satellite parks in the geostationary belt: satellites called Westars, to service Western Union and companies who lease its transponders; Constars, flagship of mighty Comsat (the Communications Satellite Corporation of the United States); Satcoms, built and owned by RCA; powerful Aniks, sent aloft by Canada to form the world's first domestic satellite system. Indonesia unites its thousand inhabited islands with satellites; Japan and the European Space Agency own orbiting communications stations; and a U.S. military network parallels Intelsatís."  But precisely because such communications satellites must be positioned 22,300 miles above the equator, only a limited number of communications satellites can be placed in geostationary orbit. And so many countries have tried to reserve slots in the geostationary belt for their own communications satellites.
        Except the Philippines.
        Even though the Philippines was a founding member of Intelsat, it has done nothing to reserve a slot for its own geostationary satellite. For nearly 20 years, the Philippines has been satisfied to lease on Palapa, Indonesia's communications satellite.
        The failure of the Philippines to get a slot for itself is "stupid neglect" on the part of the Philippine Communications Satellite Corporation (Philcomsat), says businessman Potenciano Ilusorio, who was among the founders of Philcomsat 27 years ago. "Even Tonga, which is a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, has four slots," he says.
        Mr. Ilusorio is only partially correct when he says that such neglect of the national interest is stupid. The fact is, Mr. Ilusorio is operating on the wrong premise. The Philcomsat, especially during the martial law years, was not committed at all to serving the national interest; instead it was serving the interests of Marcos cronies like Roberto S. Benedicto.
        The Philcomsat was not interested in using the communications satellite to link the cities with remote areas by telephone, telex, or telefax. Instead the Philcomsat invested in huge earth stations in the key cities -- so that Mr. Benedicto's television programs could be simulcast all over the islands.
        Individual persons and corporations could not even buy small earth stations to take advantage of communications satellite technology because the Philcomsat -- per a presidential decree -- was the only institution allowed to own earth stations. Under these circumstances even the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company was not about to invest in satellite communications.
        What was stupid from the viewpoint of the national interest was wise from the viewpoint of the interests of Mr. Benedicto and the other Marcos cronies in the Philcomsat.
        And so Mr. Ilusorio is only partially correct when he says that our neglect of satellite communications was stupid. It would be more accurate to describe this neglect as criminal.