Senators urge NTC to 'reconsider' ABS-CBN halt order, cite 'automatic extension' policy

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 07 2020 05:39 PM

MANILA - Several senators on Thursday filed a resolution urging the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to "reconsider" its order that halted ABS-CBN's broadcast operations, citing the agency's own memorandum that automatically extends all franchises expiring within the period of the enhanced community quarantine. 

ABS-CBN's franchise expired on May 4, well within the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, which was extended until May 15, 2020.

"This suggests that there is enough basis in policy and in practice to allow ABS-CBN corporation and its subsidiaries and/or affiliates to continue their operations pending the renewal of its franchise," according to Senate Resolution No. 395.

It was signed by 13 senators. 

The resolution noted that NTC did not issue a cease and desist order against at least 8 other networks and telecoms firms whose franchises expired while Congress was still tackling their respective renewal bids. 

"So bakit parang sa ABS-CBN lamang naging selective ang paghihigpit ng NTC?" Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the primary author of the resolution, told reporters in an online press conference.

(So why does it seem like the NTC was selective in being strict only with ABS-CBN?) 

The senators who signed the resolution were:

  • Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto
  • Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri
  • Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon
  • Sen. Risa Hontiveros
  • Sen. Sonny Angara
  • Sen. Nancy Binay
  • Sen. Pia Cayetano
  • Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian
  • Sen. Leila de Lima
  • Sen. Lito Lapid
  • Sen. Manny Pacquiao
  • Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan
  • Sen. Joel Villanueva

"Now, more than ever, in the middle of the biggest public health crisis of our generation, the Filipino people deserve access to up-to-date news provided by a free and unfettered media, and multiple sources provide the best pathways for the truth to emerge," the resolution read. 

"Equally important, the cease and desist order against ABS-CBN will impact on 13,000 of its workers, creating joblessness that could not be more ill-timed given the looming economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," it said.

The resolution serves as a "reiteration" of an earlier measure that expressed the Senate's sentiment in favor of allowing ABS-CBN to continually operate despite its franchise issues, Cayetano said in a note beside her signature.

"I urge my colleagues to fast track the franchise renewal bill as a measure of commitment to defend and promote press freedom," detained De Lima said in a note.

The senators also reminded NTC that only Congress is authorized to grant or revoke franchises, and that the agency made a commitment in March that it would grant a provisional license to operate for ABS-CBN after the Senate and the House passed resolutions approving a temporary license for the Philippines' largest broadcasting network.

The NTC issued the halt order against ABS-CBN after it received a letter from Solicitor General Jose Calida telling the agency to issue a cease and desist order against the network and warning its officers may face graft charges if it gives provisional authority. 

Calida earlier asked the Supreme Court to invalidate ABS-CBN's existing franchise, saying the company violated the Constitutional ban on foreign ownership, among other laws.

The company denied Calida's allegations during a Senate hearing, saying that ABS-CBN has not violated the said law since it resumed operations after the dicatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

ABS-CBN earlier drew Calida's ire after the media network reported about how the Solicitor General's security agency bagged multimillion-peso contracts with the government, for which he is now facing a graft case.

Calida had also confronted an ABS-CBN reporter, accusing him of "frequently criticizing" the Office of the Solicitor General despite fact-based reports.