MANILA (UPDATE) - Allowing ABS-CBN Corp to operate beyond its lapsed franchise would have encroached on Congress' exclusive right over legislative franchises, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) said in its explanation to lawmakers.
The House of Representatives on May 5 asked the NTC to explain in writing why it should not be held in contempt for going back on its commitment to grant provisional authority (PA) to ABS-CBN for its continued broadcast operations, as its officials had vowed under oath in a meeting with lawmakers.
Lawmakers received the NTC's explanation dated May 12 on Thursday, past its 72-hour deadline.
The NTC said it "rigorously sifted various (and often opposing) legal arguments" and considered the Office of the Solicitor General's (OSG) advise against issuing a provisional permit to ABS-CBN Corp., which government's chief legal defender released on World Press Freedom Day.
Solicitor General Jose Calida had also written a letter to NTC dated April 30, warning that its officials would face graft charges if it issued ABS-CBN provisional authority, and advising them to instead issue a cease and desist order against the network.
"Correspondingly, the OSG cautioned the NTC that its issuance of the PA would make its members liable for criminal prosecution," it said.
"In the end, NTC’s collective assessment was that the Constitution, the laws, and jurisprudence, provided insurmountable obstacles to the issuance of a PA, notwithstanding equitable considerations. If the NTC were to issue a PA, it would have amounted to an encroachment into the exclusive domain of Congress."
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said the NTC "succumbed to pressure" from the government's lead lawyer when it forced ABS-CBN off the air.
Several senators said the NTC's move amounted to "grave abuse of discretion" as there were precedents that show provisional authority can be issued while a firm's application for franchise renewal is pending.
The NTC said it would "abide by any law passed by Congress" extending legislative franchises.
"We understand that the licensing power of the NTC may only arise from the necessary delegation of power from the Congress through a law," it said.
The telecoms body admitted that it should have "at the very least, alerted Congress" that it would not issue provisional authority even after its commitment to lawmakers.
"Please rest assured that we intended no disrespect whatsoever towards Congress. On the contrary, it was precisely NTC’s full respect and recognition for Congress’ sole prerogatives that led it to desist from issuing a PA and, thereafter, to conclude that it was legally bound to issue a CDO (cease-and-desist order)," it said.
The NTC said it had made the commitment to lawmakers "upon the good faith belief that the issuance of the PA by the NTC provided the best possible solution at that time."
"Moreover, it was consistent with the legal advice of the Department of Justice, as well as Senate Resolution No. 40 based on equitable considerations," it said, referring to documents favoring the issuance of provisional authority to ABS-CBN.
"We are deeply saddened as well for the inconvenience we may have caused Congress. Again, we express our contriteness and sincere apologies for the ensuing confusion this has caused, not the least because we are in the midst of a crisis."
Lawmakers on Wednesday approved on second reading a bill that would give ABS-CBN a temporary franchise until October 2020 while they deliberate on measures for its fresh 25-year license to operate.
Senators said they would pass the bill before Congress takes another break in June.
ABS-CBN's broadcast halt last week was the first time since it was forced to sign off since the Marcos dictatorship.
It has asked the Supreme Court to stop the NTC order.
The network, which reaches millions through its television, radio and online platforms, has said it did not violate the law.
News.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.
- With a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News