NTC defends grant of frequencies to Duterte allies, says no 'midnight deal'

Art Fuentes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2022 04:50 PM

Facade of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) headquarters in Quezon City, May 19, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Facade of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) headquarters in Quezon City, May 19, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A senior official of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) defended the grant of frequencies formerly held by ABS-CBN to allies of President Rodrigo Duterte and fended off criticism that it was a “midnight deal.”

NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarrios said the commission decided to allocate the frequencies because they had been left unused for more than a year now. 

“It’s been more than 1 year already since these spectrums remain unused, unutilized and unassigned so the Commission en banc decided to assign so that it can used for public good and public convenience,” said Cabarrios in an interview with ANC. 

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Cabarrios also brushed off criticisms that the granting of frequencies was rushed to skirt an election ban on granting new permits for the use of radio frequencies. 

A think-tank earlier noted that under subsection 6.4 of Republic Act No. 9006 or the Fair Elections Act, "No franchise or permit to operate a radio or television station shall be granted or issued, suspended or canceled during the election period." 

The NTC orders assigning frequencies used by ABS-CBN were dated Jan. 5 (Wednesday) and Jan. 6 (Thursday), a few days before this year's election period opened on Jan. 9 (Monday). 

But Cabarrios said leaving the frequencies idle was “disadvantageous to the public.”

He also said that waiting for the next administration to be installed before assigning the frequencies would mean that they would be idle for more than 2 years.

Channel 2 and 16, which were formerly assigned to ABS-CBN, were granted to a firm owned by Manny Villar, one of the biggest supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte. The tycoon's son, Mark, who served in the Cabinet as public works secretary, is being supported by the administration party PDP-Laban (Cusi wing) in the May 9 polls. The elder Villar's daughter, Las Piñas Rep. Camille Villar, voted in 2020 against granting ABS-CBN a new franchise.

Channel 43 was given to a company owned by Duterte spiritual adviser Pastor Apollo Quiboloy. 

Channel 23, which was used by ABS-CBN under a blocktime deal with Amcara, went to Aliw Broadcasting. 

Cabarrios also denied allegations that the frequencies were given to favored Duterte allies. He said the companies that got these frequencies went through the NTC’s processes. 

“So there were formal hearings and submission of documents, that was done,” Cabarrios said. 

In another interview with Ted Failon and DJ Chacha on Radyo5, Cabarrios said that even if ABS-CBN gets a new franchise, it would have to line up and apply for a frequency, as there are still channels that can still be assigned. 

Meanwhile, the radio frequency formerly held by DZMM has yet to be assigned, Cabarrios said. 

“Wala pa po yan. Wala pa. Yung application…AM ang DZMM hindi ko alam kung meron nag apply ng AM broadcast sa Mega Manila. Malalaman natin kung may pending application for FM,” said Cabarrios. 

'APPARENT PAYBACK?' 

UP Professor Atty. Marichu Lambino, an expert on media law and ethics, said the NTC violated its own rules when it awarded the frequencies to the Villar company. 

“Una, pwede bang yung lumang luma aplikason na 16 years old na, paso na ay buhayin mong muli?” Lambino said. 

(First, can you revive an old application that is already 16 years old and outdated?) 

“At pwede bang ito ay ikabit mo sa analog TV na hindi nagkaroon ng panibagong hearing at panibagong aplikasyon?”

(And can you bundle this with an analog TV [frequency] without going through a new hearing?) 

Lambino said she doubts the validity of these NTC rulings. 

House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate 
said on Wednesday the grant of these frequencies were "an apparent payback of Pres. Duterte to his allies." 

"Just like what his idol, the dictator Marcos did during his time, this last two-minutes crony payback further exposes the lie of the Duterte administration that it is against oligarchy. The truth is, Pres. Duterte has his own favored oligarchs," Zarate said in a statement. 

"The grant of the ABS-CBN frequencies to the Villars now, merely months into the elections and with members of their clan running for different electoral positions, may even be perceived as giving them undue advantage over their opponents," he said. 

Duterte's acting spokesman Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Wednesday that when the NTC sought the justice department's opinion on the assignment of the frequencies, "it was purely asking a legal question."

"There was no mention of any names, names of anyone or any private company or entity," he told CNN Philippines. 

"In the same manner… when the NTC went to the OES (Office of the Executive Secretary), it was only to seek guidance on the authority to assign available and unused frequencies," Nograles said. "Again, there was no mention of anytime or any entity whatsoever."