Last Tuesday night, after ABS-CBN's 33-year-old flagship news programTV Patrol signed off, "Lupang Hinirang" played instead of the network's usual lineup of teleseryes. After a closing message from the network, the screen then turns black.
The shut down was in response to the Cease and Desist Order issued by The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against the corporation after its legislative franchise expired. With this unprecedented move by a government agency on the largest media network in the country, many questions remain unanswered—and many will remain unanswered in the days to come.
In a sea of doubt, here are some facts and frequently asked questions that might add clarity to a disconcerting issue.
Which among ABS-CBN’s businesses were shut down?
The order covers 42 TV stations, including the flagship, Channel 2; Channel 23; 10 digital broadcast channels; 18 FM stations and 5 AM stations, including DZMM and MOR Philippines.
Which among ABS-CBN’s businesses can still operate after the Cease and Desist order?
ABS-CBN’s online subsidiaries, like its news, entertainment, and sports websites, are still accessible. Since the NTC does not cover cable news channels, ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) will still go on air—and its lifestyle website, ANCX, will continue to provide content. Kapamilyas will still be able to stream their favorite movies and shows on the video streaming application, iWant. The social media accounts of ABS-CBN’s subsidiaries will also be continuously updated. ABS-CBN’s film production arm, Star Cinema, is not part of NTC’s Cease and Desist Order.
Why didn’t ABS-CBN apply for the renewal of their franchise?
Several lawmakers have already authored bills that seek to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise. These include Giorgidi Aggabao (filed in September 2014), Micaela Violago (filed in 2018), and Karlo and Jericho Nograles (filed in 2018).
All bills remain pending with Congress.
What is the issue behind the complaint against ABS-CBN for operating the TV Plus digital TV box?
The Federation of International Cable TV Associations of the Philippines (FICTAP) called on NTC to impose fines and penalties against ABS-CBN for operating TV Plus, which provides owners 11 free channels, 2 movie channels, and the Kapamilya Box Office (KBO), a pay-per-view service. According to FITCAP’s Estrellita Juliano-Tamano, the black box is unlicensed, and ABS-CBN is not allowed to profit from pay-per-view fees. She also said that the TV Plus caused members of their organization to lose their businesses.
KBO is one of the products mentioned by Solicitor General Jose Calida as one of ABS-CBN’s violations.
However, in a February 24 Senate hearing, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that when ABS-CBN was granted its franchise under Republic Act No. 7966, the franchise allowed them to “construct, operate and maintain, for commercial purposes… television and radio broadcasting corporations in and throughout the Philippines.” The words “commercial purposes,” according to Guevarra was “broad enough” to encompass the pay-per-view services.
ABS-CBN launched its digital TV service of digital terrestrial television (DTT) service in 2015, two months after NTC, led by commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, set the guidelines on shifting from analog to digital TV.
Should ABS-CBN apply for a franchise for each of their new channels, like Sports and Action, etc.?
No. ABS-CBN is using only one frequency, which can accommodate multiple channels. In fact, this is a more efficient way of using frequency. When ABS-CBN was granted its franchise, it was assigned one frequency.
Did ABS-CBN violate the law when it charged users PHP2,500 for the pay-per-view braodcast of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight (May 2015), to which NTC issued a cease and desist order?
Justice Secretary Guevarra had expressed his opinion in the February 24 Senate hearing: “We find it clear enough that broadcast companies can engage in Conditional Access (CA) or Conditional Access System (CAS) and, for the same reason can offer TV pay-per-view services…There is nothing in said provisions that would give any impression that ‘commercial purposes’ are limited only to income derived by TV broadcast companies from paid advertisements.”
Is ABS-CBN paying their taxes?
In a February 24 Senate hearing, Simplicio Cabantac, Jr., head of Large Tax Payers Audit Division 3 of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), said that ABS-CBN has paid PHP14,398,464,316.66 in taxes, from 2016-2019. “As far as ABS-CBN account is concerned, they are regularly filing and paying their taxes for the past number of years,” Cabantac added.
In the same hearing, Ephyro Luis Amatong, supervising commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), said he is “not aware of any violation or any ongoing complaint or investigation involving ABS-CBN.”
Weren’t they allowed to operate past May 4?
In March, NTC said that they would issue a provisional authority to allow ABS-CBN and its businesses to operate at least until June 2022.
Furthermore, on March 16, NTC signed a memo stating, “All subsisting permits, permits necessary to operate and maintain broadcast and pay TV facilities nationwide expiring within the quarantine period shall automatically be renewed and shall continue to be valid sixty (60) days after the end of the government-imposed quarantine period. Thereafter, these stations shall be given sixty (60) days to file for the renewal of their permits/licenses without penalties or surcharges.”
The memo cited telecommunications as one of the basic necessities during the ECQ.
What happens now?
ABS-CBN has 10 days to respond to the order and explain why the frequencies assigned to them should not be recalled.