President 'grateful' to those who helped during COVID-19 crisis
MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman on Wednesday thanked ABS-CBN Corp. for helping Filipinos weather the coronavirus pandemic, after regulators forced the country's top broadcaster off air over its stalled franchise renewal.
"I have to do as the President says: Thank you to ABS-CBN for all the help that you extended, not only in disseminating information, but the relief assistance that you have extended to our people," said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.
ABS-CBN's 25-year license to operate expired Monday while bills for its renewal, some filed in 2016, languished in Congress.
Lawmakers earlier urged the National Telecommunications Commission to allow the media and internet giant to operate provisionally beyond May 4 and officials previously gave the assurance that ABS-CBN would get a provisional permit.
However, the NTC's cease-and-desist order on Tuesday cited the franchise expiration and said the outfit's operators would have to appeal for a return to the airwaves.
ABS-CBN's “Pantawid ng Pag-ibig” campaign has delivered over P300 million worth of goods to some 600,000 families in areas that were locked down to stop the spread of COVID-19.
"In the same light that he (Duterte) has asked, in an unprecedented manner, forgiveness from 2 of the tycoons that he originally wanted me to file cases against so that they will be behind bars, he said that anyone who has helped the people in this time of crisis, I will be grateful to," said Roque.
"That's why if he could, he probably would have done something for the ABS-CBN franchise," he added.
The only body that can grant ABS-CBN's franchise is Congress, which is in session, said Roque.
"The remedy, really, is ask Congress for that franchise. It's been pending since I was a congressman there during the 17th Congress. Perhaps they've had more than enough time to study the matter," he said.
"Act on it. Vote according to your conscience. You have time to do it," he added.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said ABS-CBN could continue operating with an NTC permit after its franchise expiration -- a position opposed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Calida, in a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court, sought to nullify ABS-CBN's franchise due to alleged abuses like illegal pay-per-view offering and foreign ownership, which the network denied.
Duterte "does not influence how Cabinet members would express their opinions" and "did not side with either" Calida or Guevarra, said Roque.