ABS-CBN goes to Supreme Court for broadcast resumption

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 07 2020 03:54 PM | Updated as of May 07 2020 05:33 PM

The ABS-CBN main building in Quezon City is draped in the network’s colors on February 28, 2020. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) – ABS-CBN Corp. asked the Supreme Court on Thursday for a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the cease and desist order (CDO) issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

“The public needs the services of ABS-CBN now more than ever, as the country grapples with the effects of COVID-19. In this time of public health emergency, ABS-CBN plays a significant role in providing continued employment to thousands of employees and delivering valuable information and entertainment to millions of Filipinos locked down in their homes,” the media network said in its petition.

The 46-page petition for certiorari and prohibition also asked the high court to set aside the CDO and declare a permanent injunction against its implementation.

The media network said the NTC gravely abused its discretion when it issued a CDO instead of deferring to Congress and issuing a provisional authority to allow ABS-CBN and its stations to continue operating.

Congress, it said, has the plenary power to grant and renew legislative franchises.

The petition cited the House Committee on Franchise’s letter dated February 26 directing the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a “provisional authority to operate effective May 4, 2020 until such time that the House of Representatives/Congress has made a decision on its application” as well as the Senate resolution expressing the sense of the body that ABS-CBN and its affiliates “should continue to operate pending final determination of the renewal of its franchise by the 18th Congress.”

It also noted that NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba himself told the House Franchise committee under oath that the NTC will follow the advice of the Department of Justice and allow the media network to continue their operations based on equity.
 
ABS-CBN said the issuance of the CDO deviated from past practice and violated its right to equal protection of the law as well its right to due process because it was issued without due notice and hearing.

It enumerated at least 5 companies who were allowed to operate despite the lapse of the franchises for as long as 2 years in the case of 1 company.
 
The equal protection clause under the Constitution requires substantial distinction between ABS-CBN and the other companies to merit a different treatment.

The CDO, it said, also violates the right of the public to information, curtails freedom of speech, and causes serious and irreparable damage on ABS-CBN and thousands of its employees if its implementation is not halted.

ABS-CBN said it holds between 31 to 44% market share of the Filipino audience which would be deprived of a leading source of news and entertainment.

Around 11,000 employees, meanwhile, stand to lose their jobs should ABS-CBN’s operations cease while the government will lose a significant source of tax revenues, amounting to P14.3 billion from 2016 to 2019.

ABS-CBN also said it raised nearly P237 million for response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The media network also accused NTC of not being impartial, having been warned by Solicitor General Jose Calida 2 days before the issuance of the CDO that they risk subjecting themselves to prosecution for graft if they issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN.

“The NTC thus issued the CDO with a threat hanging over its head, made no less by the Government’s own lawyer, of prosecution for graft/corruption. Under such climate, the NTC’s impartiality is at best seriously suspect,” it said.

The company's franchise expired on May 4, while bills for its franchise renewal, some filed since 2016, continued to languish in Congress.