MANILA - A National Telecommunications Commission official said Tuesday that the agency is just "following the law" in ordering ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. to "immediately" stop operations even though it sympathizes with the company whose franchise expired May 4 and a renewal bid remains pending in Congress.
The NTC issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against ABS-CBN's television and radio broadcasts, one day after the company’s 25-year operating franchise expired.
"Since nag-expire na, so wala nang congressional franchise, on which this authorization ay ibe-base. Kaya nga we issued a CDO (cease-and-desist order) to stop operation, kasi wala nang leg to stand on [ang ABS-CBN], wala nang franchise," NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios told radio DZMM.
"While we sympathize, but we have to comply with the law," he added when asked for his message to supporters of ABS-CBN and its employees.
“We, of course, would want to see ABS-CBN continue operating. Yun nga lang, we have to abide by existing laws.”
In its order, NTC cited Act No. 3846, titled "An Act Providing For The Regulation Of Public And Radio Communications In The Philippines And For Other Purposes."
A section of the law states that "No person, firm, company, association, or corporation shall construct, install, establish, or operate a radio transmitting station, or a radio receiving station used for commercial purposes, or a radio broadcasting station, without having first obtained a franchise therefor from the Congress of the Philippines."
Cabarios said the resolutions of lawmakers allowing ABS-CBN to continue operating pending its franchise renewal bid in Congress are not laws on which a provisional authority could be anchored.
While NTC officials gave Congress their commitment last March to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority, he said the subsequent assessment by the regulatory agency's legal team led to a decision to issue the CDO based on the argument it cited.
Palawan Rep. Franz "Chicoy" Alvarez, who chairs the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, told a separate interview on DZMM that they will invite NTC officials in a hearing to get their explanation for backtracking from their commitment.
"Pinag-aaralan ng (House) leadership ngayon kung ano ang magiging sunod na hakbang ng House, dahil malinaw na encroachment ito sa jurisdiction ng House. Kasi ang Congress lamang ang may constitutional right na mag-grant ng franchise, at mag-revoke. So, medyo nanghimasok sa atin," Alvarez said.
(The House leadership is currently studying the next step of the House because clearly, this is encroachment of the jurisdiction of the House. It is only Congress that has constitutional right to grant franchise and to revoke. So, they have sort of trespassed into our jurisdiction.)
Alvarez said NTC officials may be cited in contempt because they were under oath when they committed to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority.
He also slammed the timing of the issuance of the CDO.
"Napakapangit ng timing ng nangyaring ito. Sinabayan nila yung isang malaking problema hindi lang ng Pilipinas, (kundi) ng buong mundo," Alvarez said, referring to the COVID-19 crisis.
(This development came at a very bad timing. It comes when not only the Philippines, but the whole world is beset with a big problem.)
Cabarios said the order against ABS-CBN is "immediately executory," although it can avail of some legal remedies.
If ABS-CBN does not "voluntarily" stop its operations, the NTC can request law enforcement agencies to implement the CDO, he said.
"Wala kaming police power. We have to request law enforcement agencies," he said. "Kung walang TRO, immediately executory 'yung order eh."
(We don't have police power... If there's no TRO [temporary restraining order], the order is immediately executory.)
On Sunday, Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the NTC against issuing ABS-CBN a temporary permit to operate.
Cabarios denied that Calida's threat prompted the agency to issue the CDO.
"Wala naman. Pinag-aralang mabuti ng aming legal team. That's the reason why we issued the CDO," he said.
In a statement issued earlier in the day, Alvarez said the Solicitor General's "pressure" for the NTC not to issue the network a provisional permit to operate "directly challenges" Congress' exclusive authority over broadcast franchises.
Several senators have also condemned the NTC's move, which they called "totally contrary to law" and "grave abuse of discretion."