House leadership prohibits discussions on ABS-CBN franchise renewal during plenary sessions
MANILA - House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante called on the House of Representatives Wednesday to abolish the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) after it took ABS-CBN off the air following the expiration of its franchise.
In a privilege speech, Abante pointed out that NTC’s order, was an affront to Congress, which has sole authority on legislative franchises.
The commission had ordered ABS-CBN to stop its broadcast operations Tuesday, in the wake of the lapse of its 25-year franchise on May 4. This as the network's license renewal bills have languished at the House for years and has been stalled under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had earlier vowed to shut the media giant down.
The NTC issued the order despite its previous commitment to Congress that it would allow ABS-CBN to stay on the air with a provisional authority pending final congressional action on its franchise application.
“But the latest act of the NTC in issuing a cease and desist order against broadcast company ABS-CBN is a slap in the face of Congress and an outright act of defiance," he said.
“Hayagang binastos at binalewala ng NTC ang Kongreso at Senado! Papayag ba tayo na mabalewala ng isang ahensya ng pamahalaan ng puro kapalpakan lamang ang ginagawa? Ang ginawang ito ng NTC ay hindi maaaring palampasin ng Kongreso. This is an open defiance and an insult to Congress. The NTC should be abolished and its functions and powers be transferred to the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) where it can be better exercised and hopefully be more responsive to the needs of our changing times. I say we do it now, and we do it fast," Abante added.
Abante also questioned the wisdom and competence of the NTC in its regulatory functions.
“The incompetence of its officials has resulted in a poorly regulated sector -- telecommunications -- whose pervasiveness and influence across all classes of society are beyond question. Bakit nga ba isa sa pangunahing programa ni President Duterte na makapasok ang third telco sa bansa? Dahil sa kapalpakan ng NTC na bantayan ang sector na ito. Kaya nga kinailangan pa nating lumikha ng bagong departamento – ang DICT. Dahil hindi nagampanan ng NTC ang tungkulin nito," he said.
"We have an NTC that merely proposes and suggests policies to the industry. Violations of NTC regulations are supposed to be dealt with by suspension, if not cancellation of license to operate, but did the NTC ever suspend or penalize the likes of PLDT, Globe, or Smart? Kahit ang daming issues at problema sa telecoms tulad ng dropped calls, unregistered prepaid cards, expensive text messaging fees, phone scams, poor telephone service, lack of interconnection, at marami pang iba," Abante also said.
Abante also scored the NTC, alleging it lacks dynamism to keep up with new technologies, particularly those built around data and Internet protocol technologies.
“Telecommunications companies could, for example, provide mass media services and content, just as cable companies can now easily provide Internet-related services, including voice over IP telephony. Ang mga shows sa TV ay mapapanood mo na sa cellphone at ibang gadgets. Ang mga broadcast companies ay ginagamit na ang internet bilang platform para sa broadcasting. Nasaan ang NTC? Anong regulation ang ginagawa nito?” he said.
“Our National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), supposedly in charge of regulating and promoting the telecommunications industry has turned out to be one of the most inept and useless agencies whose only relevance lies in being another model for sheer wastage of taxpayer money. Its failure all these years to invoke sanctions against the companies poorly serving the people’s telecommunications needs is a perfect reason to abolish it already," he added.
The NTC issued a cease and desist order that took ABS-CBN off the air for the first time since the Marcos dictatorship on Tuesday, citing the expiration of Republic Act 7966 or the 1995 franchise of the network.
When Abante ended his speech, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Crispin Remulla raised a point of order and moved to strike out parts of Abante’s speech discussing ABS-CBN, citing House Rules prohibiting any discussion in the plenary about matters pending before the various House Committees.
“I wish to raise a point of order on the matter of ABS-CBN being discussed in the speech of Hon. Abante. I move to strike out all the remarks that have to do with ABS-CBN since we made clear that it will not be discussed in the plenary today since the rules prohibit the discussion of ABS-CBN as it is already pending in committee," Remulla said.
No one objected to Remulla’s motion and so it was approved.
Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Defensor said he is "baffled" that some of his fellow lawmakers seem to agree with the opinion of Solicitor General Jose Calida and Presidential Legal Adviser Salvador Panelo, who both blamed the House of Representatives for not acting on the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN.
"In the first place, and I say this as the representative of the Anakalusugan Partylist whose main advocacy is the health and welfare of the Filipino people, Congress should be tackling more important issues, instead of a private bill that has been languishing in these chambers for the past two administrations," he said in a statement.
"This is especially true today as we face a worldwide pandemic that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands around the world. Yet here we are. Wasting valuable time - all because a few rogue administration officials have taken it upon themselves to subvert the process for their own political ends," Defensor added.
He said that Congress was "ambushed" after the NTC issued the cease and desist order against ABS-CBN when it earlier promised to allow the company to continue broadcasting until its franchise is renewed.
"Yesterday Congress was ambushed. And if we may believe the statements of Sec. Harry Roque, this also caught Malacañang by surprise. The unconstitutional meddling of the SolGen - to the extent that he pressured the NTC to go against the DOJ (Department of Justice), the Senate, and their own word given under oath - is a disgrace and an affront to the entire Congress. Yet there are still those among us who choose to side with them against the rest of the membership," Defensor said.
He was referring to the Senate resolution on continued ABS-CBN operations and a justice department legal guidance saying Congress may allow NTC to issue the network provisional authority pending its franchise renewal.
Defensor also said it was unfair for new lawmakers like him to take the blame when in fact the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN has pending at the House of Representatives for years.
"This bill has been in Congress since 2014 during the time of Speaker Belmonte and President Aquino. I think it is only fair that we ask our colleagues who were here then and who are the most vocal now - what did you do then? If you truly believe that this is an issue of press freedom, then why didn’t you speak up the way that you are doing now?" Defensor said.
"Unfortunately, those who cry foul the hardest are those who were already members of Congress when ABS-CBN first applied for their renewal. Unfair naman sa aming mga 160 members na bago pa lang sa kongreso at walang kinalaman sa mahigit na 6 na taon na naka pending ang application ng ABS-CBN," he added.
To date, 12 bills giving ABS-CBN a fresh franchise have been pending before the House Committee on Legislative Franchises since the start of the 18th Congress.