MANILA—The Philippine government’s move to shut down the country’s largest broadcast network, which was repeatedly threatened with closure by President Rodrigo Duterte in the past, was an “assault on press freedom,” a framer of the 1987 constitution said Monday.
Lawyer Christian Monsod denounced the National Telecommunications Commission’s cease-and-desist order on ABS-CBN, saying the agency appeared to be trying more to “look for a way to close down” the network.
Monsod, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, cited instances in the past when the NTC allowed other entities to continue operations while their applications for a new franchise were pending in Congress.
“In this case, you’re trying to look for a way to close down ABS-CBN? Or are you trying to follow due process? I think it’s the first one rather than the second one,” he told ABS-CBN News.
The network on May 5 complied with the NTC’s shutdown order the day after its broadcast expired, despite multiple applications for renewal in Congress since 2014.
The closure of the network’s free TV and FM and AM radio broadcasts sparked criticisms over the government’s supposedly high-handed efforts to muzzle free speech.
“It can be interpreted as an assault on press freedom because I have not read or heard any good reason why it shouldn’t be allowed to continue operating pending consideration or review of Congress,” said Monsod.
The NTC denied ABS-CBN due process by issuing the closure order “with supersonic speed,” said lawyer Rodolfo Salalima, former information and communications technology secretary.
Several congressmen went after the NTC for shutting down ABS-CBN despite promising to issue a provisional authority to keep the network on the air.
The House legislative franchises committee on Monday threatened to cite NTC officials for contempt.
“The problem with the NTC is it lied,” said Rep. Michael Defensor, chairman of the public accounts committee who also sought to investigate the commission and Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Calida was accused of pressuring the NTC to close down ABS-CBN in a letter that warned of “penal sanctions” if the agency issued a provisional authority.
But House leaders were also accused of sitting on the franchise renewal application and passing the blame on the NTC.
Last week, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano warned of “a reckoning” for the NTC and the “unconstitutional meddling by the Solicitor General in the business of Congress.”
But he did not say when "fair, impartial, thorough, and comprehensive” hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise bills would be scheduled.
Monsod acknowledged that it would be difficult to “depoliticize” the process of broadcast franchise applications, a power given to Congress as a representative of the people.
“The presumption is that the legislators, whether it’s the House or the Senate, will listen to their constituents as well and express their feelings and position,” he said.