NTC under fire for halt order vs ABS-CBN

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 06 2020 04:04 PM | Updated as of May 06 2020 04:14 PM

National Telecommunications Commission Commissioner Atty. Gamaliel Cordoba, during the Committee on Public Services hearing Monday, 24 February 2020, on the extension of ABS-CBN Corp.’s franchise. Henzberg Austria, Senate PRIB

MANILA -- The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is 
under fire from lawmakers after issuing a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN.

In appearances at hearings of both the House and the Senate, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Corodoba told lawmakers it could issue a provisional authority allowing the network to remain on air
upon the recommendation of Congress.

“If mangyari po yung sinabi ni Secretary of Justice na magkaroon kami ng authority from Congress to issue a provisional authority, then the frequency of ABS-CBN will be retained while the renewal is pending," Cordoba said during the hearing. 

In his legal opinion, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had pointed out the cases of Smart Communications, PT&T, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, which were allowed to operate despite expired franchises but had pending applications for renewals.

In those cases, the NTC neither issued a provisional authority or cease and desist orders.

On Tuesday, the chairperson of the House legislative franchises committee warned the NTC that it would be summoned to explain why it should not be held in contempt should it renege on its commitment to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to continue operations.

The Solicitor General's "pressure" for the NTC not to issue the network provisional permit to operate "directly challenges" Congress' exclusive authority over broadcast franchises, according to Palawan 1st District Rep. Franz Alvarez.

"If the NTC chooses to succumb to the pressure of the Solicitor General, and disregard the commitments they gave under oath, we reserve the right to call them before Congress and explain why they should not be held in contempt," Alvarez said in a statement.

"We have recently been made aware of efforts by the Solicitor General to pressure the (NTC) to go against the ruling of the Department of Justice, which states that ABS-CBN may continue to broadcast while Congress deliberates on the renewal of its franchise."

"We would like to make it clear that Congress takes this matter very seriously...," Alvarez said.

The Solicitor General, according to Alvarez, "should have the decency to give Congress this courtesy to complete the exercise of its power," noting that his committee already began deliberations on the broadcast company's application for franchise renewal before adjourning in March.

He said that enjoining NTC to allow ABS-CBN to operate until Congress finally decides on its franchise application is necessary to give lawmakers "sufficient time" to assess.

The committee would not be "dictated upon" by any agency on the "manner, schedule, and conduct of it’s official business," he said.

In March, the NTC said it would issue a provisional authority to allow ABS-CBN and its subsidiaries to operate until June 2022, while Congress deliberates on the network's franchise renewal bid.

"The power of Congress to legislate is complete, full, and plenary. A legislative franchise is a law and by deciding whether to grant or deny a franchise, it is passing a law and making policy," Alvarez reiterated.

"With the legal opinion of the Department of Justice and the authority given by the House of Representatives, there is no reason for ABS-CBN to discontinue or stop their operations until we make a final decision."

ABS-CBN's franchise expired Monday, May 4.

The NTC earlier issued a memorandum allowing the automatic renewal of expiring permits of broadcast and pay TV facilities during the enhanced community quarantine.

The Luzon lockdown ended on April 30 but the measure was extended in Metro Manila until May 15 to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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