President Rodrigo Duterte said lawmakers should tackle the stalled franchise renewal of ABS-CBN Corp., a day after regulators forced the country's largest media network off air.
Congress, where bills to extend the franchise of ABS-CBN have languished for three years, has the primary and exclusive jurisdiction over media licenses, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.
“The stand of our President there is that if Congress was able to pass a resolution asking the NTC to give ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate, why not just pass a law that would give ABS-CBN a franchise?” Roque said in Filipino.
Lawmakers earlier urged the National Telecommunications Commission to allow ABS-CBN to operate provisionally after its 25-year license expired Monday.
Despite assurances that it would grant the network a provisional permit, the NTC on Tuesday issued it a case-and-desist order.
Palace says it won’t interfere
The Palace Wednesday assured ABS-CBN that President Rodrigo Duterte will not interfere with the renewal of its franchise, which is now in the hands of Congress.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque also said the President will not hold a grudge and urge his allies in Congress to vote against the renewal.
“The President is neutral and wants to let all his allies know that he will not hold it against them. It will not endear him either way. They can vote as they wish,” Roque said.
Earlier, Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the National Telecommunications Commission not to issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN that would allow it to keep operating while its application for a franchise renewal is pending in Congress.
Lawmaker sees provisional franchise
The chairman of the House of Representatives committee on constitutional amendments on Wednesday asked Congress to grant shuttered radio-TV network ABS-CBN a provisional franchise good up to June 30, 2022, or the life of the present Congress.
In filing a new joint congressional resolution granting the temporary franchise, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said: "I am hoping we can expedite the hearings on this measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic even if we have to hear all stakeholders through the new normal videoconferencing platform."
Rodriguez had authored a resolution extending the ABS-CBN franchise for one year. It was among at least 11 related proposals pending with the House committee on legislative franchises, most of which seek the extension of the network’s broadcasting privilege.
At the same time, Rodriguez filed a bill granting ABS-CBN a new franchise for 25 years.
NTC firm on ABS-CBN closure
The National Telecommunications Commission decided unanimously to stop ABS-CBN Corp.'s broadcast and a reversal of the ruling is unlikely, one of its three members said Wednesday.
To resume TV and radio operations, the broadcast network should secure a temporary restraining order from the Court of Appeals against the NTC or have lawmakers approve a new franchise, said Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios.
The broadcaster has 10 days to respond to the NTC's cease and desist order, Cabarios said. The regulator shuttered ABS-CBN despite a request from lawmakers to grant the company provisional authority to operate beyond the expiry of its franchise on May 4 as they need more time to deliberate on its renewal.
"It was a unanimous decision….It’s really a very difficult decision on our part but after reviewing all the possible options, only one option was available the cease-and-desist order,” Cabarios said.
TRO best remedy, Carpio says
Retired Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio on Wednesday stressed the importance of a free press in a democracy and said ABS-CBN Corp.'s only remedy was to seek a temporary restraining order against government's directive to stop its broadcast operations.
The network was forced to go off the air on Tuesday night due to a cease-and-desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission, which went back on its commitment to give ABS-CBN a provisional permit for continued operations.
The former Supreme Court magistrate, however, said the decision of the high court in the case of Associated Communications vs NTC must be overturned. The Court in 2003 had ruled that the NTC does not have the power to issue provisional permits.
Calida defends NTC
Solicitor General Jose Calida on Wednesday backed the National Telecommunications Commission for its decision to issue a cease-and-desist order that compelled ABS-CBN to go off air on Tuesday evening.
Calida said the NTC should not be blamed for the closure of the media giant since it was only following the law.
“Without a valid and subsisting franchise from Congress, the NTC cannot allow any broadcasting entity from operating in the country," Calida said in a statement.
The chief state lawyer noted that the bills seeking renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise have been pending in Congress since 2016.
"The question we should be asking is, why hasn’t Congress acted on it? Who is at fault here?" Calida said.
Senators hit NTC
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said media giant ABS-CBN does not deserve death penalty while Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said the cease-and-desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
"The cease and desist order against ABS-CBN is not only a grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NTC, it also infringes on the constitutional guarantee of equal protection," Drilon said.
"It is of record and public knowledge that NTC has allowed and is allowing franchisees to operate even after the lapse of their franchises as long as the bills renewing their franchises are pending before Congress," he said.
He cited PT&T, SMART Communications, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, TV5, and Subic Broadcasting as companies that were allowed to operate despite expired franchises.
“Why was ABS-CBN singled out here?” he asked.
Shame on NTC, Congress—Locsin
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. slammed the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the House of Representatives for the shutdown of ABS-CBN.
In a series of tweets, Locsin said renewing a media franchise is a “first priority in democracy” for the House of Representatives and does not depend on whether one likes it.
Locsin used to host the public affairs program “Assignment” on ABS-CBN before becoming a congressman.
He added that the House of Representatives “sunk lower than imaginable” amid the shutdown that happened during a pandemic.
Locsin added closing down a major media outlet that has provided news, entertainment, and comfort for millions of Filipinos here and abroad is a “shame” for the NTC and Congress.
Jobs not in peril, Bello says
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Wednesday said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) order for ABS-CBN to stop its broadcast operations has no immediate impact on its 11,000 employees.
The Labor chief said the broadcast network can exhaust legal remedies on the matter, while its employees continue to be employed and entitled to all labor standards.
Bello also said that the matter can be resolved within a week based on laws, thus there is no need for the employees to be afraid of losing their jobs.
More infections with network closure—Salceda
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda on Wednesday said the National Telecommunications Commission’s move to close the ABS-CBN network will lead to more novel coronavirus infections in the country.
Salceda said millions of Filipinos would lose their primary source of information with the closure of the network. He said Filipinos spend around 4.9 hours every week on television. With the stay at home orders, this may increase the time spent on TV by 5 percent.
As of Tuesday, the Department of Health recorded 9,684 positive COVID-19 cases in the country including 637 deaths.
"The NTC behavior essentially is aggravating this threat to our national health," he said.
Don’t blame Cayetano, deputy says
Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep.Johnny Pimentel on said Wednesday that it is unfair to solely blame the leadership of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for the House failure to act on the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.
Pimentel said the House of Representatives always decides as a collegial body in all pending matters, including the franchise of the giant network that went off the air Tuesday night after one day since its franchise expired.
Pimentel said it is wrong for the critics to focus their anger and fury on Cayetano, who had delayed discussions on the franchise renewal.