Solicitor General Calida says Congress, not NTC, to blame for ABS-CBN shutdown

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 06 2020 02:01 PM | Updated as of May 12 2020 06:17 PM

Solicitor General Jose Calida files a quo warranto petition vs ABS-CBN and its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence at the Supreme Court on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, for alleged franchise provisions. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/ File

MANILA – Two months after asking the Supreme Court to void the ABS-CBN broadcast franchise, Solicitor General Jose Calida on Wednesday said Congress was to blame for the network's shutdown, as he defended the National Telecommunications Commission's (NTC) order stopping the media giant's operations. 

This even as it was Calida himself just three days earlier who warned the NTC against issuing provisional authority for ABS-CBN Corp. to operate when its franchise lapses, threatening prosecution for graft against commissioners who will grant such authority.

“Why blame NTC when they are only following the law?,” Calida, government's lead legal defender, said in a statement to the media.

“Without a valid and subsisting franchise from Congress, the NTC cannot allow any broadcasting entity from operating in the country,” he added, referring to the lapse of ABS-CBN Corporation’s franchise on May 4.

Instead, Calida passed the buck to Congress.

“The bill renewing ABS-CBN’s franchise has been pending in Congress since 2016. The question we should be asking is, why hasn’t Congress acted on it? Who is at fault here?,” Calida asked.

A franchise is granted by passing a law in both chambers of Congress.

Several bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise have been filed since 2016 under the current session of Congress but none has been passed so far. President Rodrigo Duterte had several times threatened to shut the network down. 

Instead of a law however, the Senate passed a resolution while the House Franchise Committee sent a letter to the NTC authorizing it to issue provisional authority to ABS-CBN while the network’s franchise renewal bill is being deliberated in Congress.

The NTC, on March 10, said it would issue a provisional authority on the basis of guidance from the Justice department.

On Sunday, before the franchise lapse, Calida warned against this move, invoking OSG’s role as counsel of NTC. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon noted there is a “conflict of interest there when the lawyer threatens to sue its client.”

The NTC eventually decided Tuesday to issue a cease and desist order instead. ABS-CBN went off the air after the TV Patrol newscast early Tuesday night, along with its other TV and radio stations across the country. 

‘TRIUMPH OF THE RULE OF LAW’

Calida hailed the issuance of the cease and desist order as a “triumph of the rule of law.”

“The Constitution requires a prior franchise from Congress before a broadcasting entity can operate in this country. Absent a renewal, the franchise expires by operation by law. The franchise ceases to exist and the entity can no longer continue its operations as a public utility,” he said.

Justifying the issuance of a cease and desist order, Calida pointed to a 2003 Supreme Court decision which allowed the issuance of a recall order and cease and desist order against a broadcasting entity when it failed to renew its franchise.

Several broadcast companies have, however, been allowed to operate despite an expired franchise, as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier pointed out in saying Congress may allow NTC to give ABS-CBN provisional authority. 

Duterte had earlier threatened not to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise several times even to the point of suggesting that the Lopezes just sell the station over the non-airing of his 2016 political ads.

ABS-CBN CEO Carlo Katigbak, in a Senate hearing in February, explained what happened and apologized to the President over the handling of the matter, which Duterte accepted a few days later.