MANILA (Philippines News Agency) – Several senators on Tuesday expressed varying opinions after the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) ordered ABS-CBN Corp. to stop its television and radio broadcast operations due to the expiration of its congressional franchise on May 4.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said the matter of allowing ABS-CBN to operate after the NTC order is “now with the House of Representatives.”
“There is a bill seeking to renew the franchise of the media corporation now pending before the Lower House. Now that session has already resumed, I am urging the House of Representatives to act on this matter with due haste,” he said in a statement.
“Upon reaching the Senate and once we have had a chance to conduct our own hearings on the matter, that is when I will decide and vote according to my conscience and the interest of the Filipino people,” Go said.
Senator Grace Poe echoed Go’s position, saying the ball is in the court of the House where legislative franchises emanate.
“I don’t think there’s a problem with us solving this issue,” she said, referring to the Senate.
Poe, however, expressed fears that the development may lead to the displacement of thousands of ABS-CBN workers.
“I think this is another angle that needs to be looked at by the NTC. Ngayon pa sila magpapasara kung kailan ang daming walang trabaho (They ordered the stoppage at a time when many have no jobs),” she said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said the NTC order is “irregular and improper” amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
“I’m really saddened by the move of NTC. We can cite many instances when the NTC granted provisional authority for those still applying for their franchises,” he said.
Zubiri said the network company could go to the Supreme Court and cite these “instances” to ask for a temporary restraining order (TRO).
Senator Sonny Angara said the NTC order “seems ill-advised and heavy-handed” from the standpoint of law and public policy.
He pointed out that both the Senate and the House, and even the Department of Justice (DOJ), have issued resolutions and opinions favoring the issuance of a provisional authority for the media entity to operate pending congressional deliberations on its legislative franchise renewal.
“There is the risk of many people losing their jobs or livelihoods in what is a very difficult economic environment. People will also lose a valuable source of reliable information in the middle of a pandemic when our people need reliable information more than ever,” Angara said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said the NTC’s cease-and-desist order (CDO) “is ill-timed and insensitive to the needs of the public.”
“The delivery of timely and correct information is essential to our Covid-19 response. This shutdown order goes against public welfare,” she said.
On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon condemned the NTC order as “contrary to law and grave abuse of discretion.”
He said that there is enough precedent where a provisional authority has been issued while the application for renewal of the franchise is pending.
“The Secretary of Justice himself said that with the concurrence of the two Houses with the matter pending, the NTC can issue the provisional authority,” Drilon said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan echoed Drilon in saying that the NTC action was “highly irregular” and “grave abuse of discretion.”
“ABS-CBN should bring the matter before the Supreme Court,” he said.
In a CDO dated May 5, the NTC said ABS-CBN should “stop operating its various TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide ‘absent a valid Congressional Franchise as required by law’.”
The order covers 42 television stations across the country, including the flagship Channel 2, 10 digital broadcast channels, 18 FM stations, and 5 AM stations.
The NTC gave the network 10 days from receipt of the order “to respond as to why the frequencies assigned to it should not be recalled.”
ABS-CBN said it will stop its broadcast operations Tuesday night in compliance with the NTC order. (PNA)