MANILA (UPDATE) - Several senators on Tuesday condemned the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for stopping broadcast operations of ABS-CBN Corp., months after it assured Congress that a provisional authority to operate would be given to the Philippines' largest media network.
NTC's order was issued a day after the broadcast giant's 25-year franchise expired, even as it earlier said that all franchises that expired during the Luzon community quarantine are deemed extended 60 days after the lockdown is lifted.
"This act of NTC... is totally contrary to law and is a grave abuse of discretion," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said during the Senate's hybrid session.
"First, there is enough precedent... that provisional authority can be issued while the application for renewal is pending," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri echoed Drilon, saying several media companies have been operating using provisional authority while their licenses to operate are still pending in Congress.
"What I find highly irregular is that I know for a fact that there are many stations operating on provisional authority... We can cite many instances when the NTC granted provisional authority for those still applying for their franchises," he said.
"ABS-CBN can ask for a temporary restraining order or TRO presenting the fact that the NTC has given this (provisional authority) to past and present corporations," he said.
Several senators described the NTC's order against ABS-CBN as "heartless" and "insensitive," noting that stopping the media company's broadcast operations might leave 11,000 workers jobless during the coronavirus pandemic.
"What many don't realize is at this time, ABS-CBN and other networks continue to pay their talents even if they are not on regular broadcasting schedule," Senate Committee on Public Services Grace Poe said.
"Many will lose that benefit of having support while there is no work. Ngayon pa sila magpapasara kung kailan maraming walang trabaho (They order a shutdown now that many are losing jobs)?" she said.
"The current resolution of NTC is disappointing. To issue this in times of COVID-19 when people need jobs to survive the pandemic is just heartless considering congressional hearings have shown that the station has not violated any law to justify none extension of franchise," Senate Labor Committee chair Joel Villanueva said in a separate statement.
Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan questioned the priorities of executive agencies, asking why a media giant employing thousands of Filipinos was shut down, while Chinese-operated gambling firms were allowed to resume business despite multiple violations of the law.
"Stopping ABS-CBN’s operation would cut the income of another 11,000 employees. Wala na bang puso ang pamahalaan? Pero binuksan ang mga POGO. Para lang ba sa dayuhan ang puso ng pamahalaan?" he said in a statement.
"Tinanggalan n'yo ng trabaho ang 11,000 kapwa Pilipino, pati na rin ng konting kasiyahan ng maraming pamilyang Pilipino. By midnight, thousands more will be jobless," Sen. Nancy Binay said in a tweet.
ABS-CBN's shutdown "goes against public welfare," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.
"We need more, not fewer voices of responsible media and press lalo na sa panahon ng pandemic na kailangan ng ating mga kababayan ng kumpletong impormasyon (especially at a time of a pandemic when people need complete information)," she said.
Sen. Sonny Angara also expressed his "reservations" about the order "because at the time of the virus, people need to be informed."
"This is a time when we need reliable information and we shut down one of the sources that is practically in every household of Filipinos? So where is the Filipino going to get news now? From the internet where there is a lot of fake news? No disrespect to other channels," Angara said during the Senate's Tuesday session.
Administration Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go said he would decide on the matter once ABS-CBN's franchise bid reaches the Senate.
"The matter of allowing ABS-CBN to operate after the National Telecommunications Commission issued a Cease-and-Desist Order against the media corporation is now with the House of Representatives," Go said in a statement.
"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."
NTC issued the order after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the agency against issuing a temporary permit to operate for ABS-CBN.
Calida has asked the Supreme Court to invalidate ABS-CBN's franchise for its alleged Constitutional violations, but the high court has yet tot rule on the matter.