MANILA - House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday said regulators appeared to have "succumbed to pressure" from the government's lead lawyer when it forced ABS-CBN off air over its stalled franchise renewal.
"Last Tuesday we were all ambushed by the NTC," Cayetano said in a statement, two days after the National Telecommunications Commission issued a cease-and-desist order against ABS-CBN due to the network's franchise expiration.
"Despite their assurance given under oath. Despite the legal opinion of the Department of Justice. Despite a resolution from the Senate, and several verbal and written assurances given to Congress - the NTC appears to have succumbed to pressure from the Solicitor General, and issued a cease and desist order to ABS-CBN," he said.
Cayetano said the NTC in March promised it would let the Philippines' top broadcaster operate provisionally until Congress decided on the renewal of its 25-year license to operate, which expired last Monday.
With this assurance, lawmakers "wasted no time in addressing the bigger threat facing the country", Cayetano said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Solicitor General Jose Calida, who earlier sought to nullify ABS-CBN's franchise through a quo warranto petition, pressed the NTC to stop the network's broadcast instead of granting it provisional authority, according to a copy of his April 30 letter.
While the NTC order "complicates the issue", the authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke or modify broadcast franchises "still resides in Congress, and Congress alone," said the House Speaker.
The House legislative franchise committee, he said, would conduct hearings that are "fair, impartial, thorough, and comprehensive."
Cayetano did not immediately say when these hearings were scheduled.
"As for the sudden flip-flopping of the NTC and the unconstitutional meddling by the Solicitor General in the business of Congress, I promise you - there will be a reckoning," he said.
Calida in February asked the Supreme Court to nullify ABS-CBN's franchise due to alleged violations like illegal pay-per-view offerings and foreign ownership.
The network, which reached millions of Filipinos through its television, radio and online platforms, said it did not violate the law in its 65 years of service.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque denied Wednesday that Calida pushed regulators to shutter ABS-CBN.
Roque also said President Rodrigo Duterte was "completely neutral" on the network's franchise.
Duterte has repeatedly threatened to shut down the outfit and told its owners in December to sell it. In February, he accepted the ABS-CBN's apology for airing a 2016 campaign ad placed by a critic.
The network on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to temporarily stop its shutdown.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.