Cayetano hits NTC 'betrayal,' Solicitor General's 'unconstitutional meddling' on ABS-CBN franchise renewal

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 13 2020 05:58 PM | Updated as of May 13 2020 09:14 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) — The halt of ABS-CBN's broadcast operations "distracted" the House of Representatives from its pandemic response, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said Wednesday, as he blamed the National Telecommunications Commission's (NTC) "betrayal" and the Office of the Solicitor General's "unconstitutional meddling" with the network's franchise renewal issue. 

The speaker made the remarks on the House floor as he sponsored a bill granting ABS-CBN provisional franchise until October 2020, citing the continuing coronavirus response and the need to thoroughly address issues surrounding the network's bid for a 25-year franchise renewal. 

"You cannot hope to weigh the value of our immediate response to this pandemic as against the concerns of a private corporation... Yet this is exactly what the NTC has unnecessarily forced us to do," Cayetano said before the House Committee of the Whole. 

The NTC ordered ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting on May 5, a day after its franchise expired despite an earlier commitment to give the network "provisional authority" to operate beyond its franchise validity.

It was also found that Solicitor General Jose Calida had pressured the NTC to issue a cease and desist order against the network, warning that issuing provisional authority instead may lead to graft charges against its officials. 

"This distraction is the reason why we must not allow the betrayal of NTC and the unconstitutional meddling of the Solicitor General in this exclusive powers of Congress to go unchallenged," Cayetano said. 

"Their actions are not only an affront to this institution, it also delays the discussion and passage of crucial legislation that our people sorely need," he added

Cayetano said NTC's commitment was the reason why they did not see the ABS-CBN franchise bills as urgent. The bills have been pending since 2014.

"Ang punto po nangako sila sa atin (the point is they promised us) and we can only act based on the facts given to us... We would have not relied on their word and this piece of legislation that we are acting on now may have been acted upon during that time," Cayetano said.

The speaker likewise questioned Calida's motive for threatening the NTC with lawsuit should it issue provisional authority in favor of ABS-CBN. 

"What we do object to and take serious offense with is the furtive manner by which you deliberately and maliciously undermined the authority of Congress... Why choose to remain silent for close to two months, and on the eve of the opening of congress, come out with your threats to the NTC?" Cayetano said. 

The House Committee of the Whole on Wednesday approved a bill that gives ABS-CBN Corp. provisional franchise until October 2020. It is up for plenary deliberations Wednesday night. 

House Bill No. 6732 grants ABS-CBN provisional franchise to operate until October 31, 2020, before Congress deliberates on long-pending bills giving the media giant license to broadcast for another 25 years. 

The short-term license will "give both the House of Representatives and the Senate [time] to hear the issues being raised for and against the renewal, and assess, with complete impartiality and fairness, whether or not the network shall be granted a franchise for another 25 years."