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A loss of democracy: NUJP chair hits NTC cease and desist order vs. ABS-CBN

MANILA (UPDATE)-- The head of a media rights group slammed Tuesday the order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to halt the broadcast operations of ABS-CBN Corp.

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Chairman Nonoy Espina called the shutdown of the network a loss for democracy, freedom of the press and expression.

"Kalokohan na itong ginagawa ng gobyernong ito. I think they have crossed the line that we, hindi lamang sa media, kundi 'yong taumbayan, should not allow," Espina said in an interview with radio DZMM.

"Malaking kawalan ito sa demokrasya at kalayaan ng pamamahayag at pagpapahayag," he said.

Espina warned that shutting down a "major outlet of information" could endanger lives amid the country's continued battle against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

"Information, at this time, is very, very important tapos kukunan mo 'yong taumbayan ng isang source of information," he said.

For Espina, the issuance of a cease and desist order was "intended to send a message" since it was released 2 days after the celebration of World Press Freedom Day.

"This government is telling us, we do not care about your rights, we do not care about your freedom... Sobrang garapalan," he said.

Rights group Karapatan decried the order, which it described as a "blatant attack on press freedom."

"It is truly abhorrent that this order comes in the middle of a public health crisis where the free press plays a crucial role in keeping the public informed on relevant, verified, and life-saving information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of media workers are also at risk of losing their jobs as the country grapples with a looming socio-economic crisis," it said in a statement.

"We call on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand against the State's fascist attacks on press freedom and human rights, and to strongly resist and frustrate the Duterte administration’s nefarious tyrannical schemes," it said.

In a cease and desist order issued Tuesday, the NTC said ABS-CBN must stop its broadcast operations "due to the expiration of its congressional franchise" on May 4.

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."

The NTC order comes despite steps taken by Congress leaders to show that they favor a renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise.

The Senate earlier adopted a resolution expressing the chamber’s view that ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiaries should be allowed to operate while awaiting Congress action on its franchise renewal application.

At the House of Representatives, lawmakers sent a letter to the NTC asking that a provisional authority be issued to ABS-CBN pending renewal of the network’s franchise.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra was also of the opinion that ABS-CBN may continue broadcasting despite an expired franchise, on the strength of a provisional authority issued by the NTC.

On Sunday, Solicitor General Jose Calida, who had filed a quo warranto petition questioning the validity of ABS-CBN's current franchise, cautioned the NTC against issuing a provisional authority to ABS-CBN, saying Congress alone may decide on the fate of the network.