Philippines' new 911 hotline swamped with prank calls

Hours after the Philippines' "911" emergency hotline went live nationwide on Monday, prank callers were already swamping the system.

The hotline - manned by 45 operators - received 2,475 calls within the first seven hours. Only 75 were legitimate pleas for police assistance. The rest were either pranks or dropped calls.

Most of the valid calls involved requests for ambulances and reports of road accidents, brawls, men running amok, drag racing, drug peddling and alcohol consumption in streets.

Before this new hotline, the Philippines had another emergency number, 117, and the service was called "Patrol 117".

That service began in 2002. By 2012, it was receiving over 2 million prank calls, 96 per cent of the total.

President Rodrigo Duterte modelled the new emergency service after "Central 911", a hotline service used in his southern home city of Davao. Also launched in 2002, the hotline has been credited with helping bring down Davao's crime rate from 60.46 per 100,000 persons in 2009 to 50.03 in 2013.

Mr Duterte hopes to provide a more effective 24-hour emergency service to the country. But scaling up the successful city-based model to cover a national population of over 100 million - Davao has a population of just 1.6 million - is so far proving problematic.

Philippine National Police chief Ronaldo de la Rosa, nicknamed "The Rock", has threatened to arrest pranksters.

"The 911 system is currently tracking the prank callers and we'll make sure you will be unmasked and arrested," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines' new 911 hotline swamped with prank calls'. Print Edition | Subscribe