MANILA - The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued a closure order against ABS-CBN Corp following the Solicitor General's quo warranto petition against the network, its chief told senators Wednesday.
The NTC issued a cease-and-desist order against the country's largest broadcast company on May 5, a day after its franchise lapsed and following Solicitor General Jose Calida's advise against issuing a provisional authority to the network. Calida also warned NTC officials they may face graft charges if they issued provisional license to the network.
This, even after its officers told lawmakers in a March meeting that the NTC would give ABS-CBN provisional franchise as bills for its license renewal remain pending.
The telecoms body "never issued a provisional license" to firms while their franchise renewal is pending in Congress, NTC commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told the Senate committee on constitutional amendments.
“What happened then was we just allow them to continue operating and the difference from those instances on the ABS-CBN issue is that in ABS-CBN, case for quo warranto was actually filed by the office of the Solicitor General,” he said.
“Kaya po naging (that's why it became) untenable on our part to continue because of the clear letter of the law in Republic Act 3846," Cordoba said, referring to the law requiring a broadcast franchise.
Calida's quo warranto petition filed before the Supreme Court in February sought to invalidate ABS-CBN's franchise citing the network's alleged franchise violations.
ABS-CBN sought its dismissal, saying the case presents questions of fact that the high court cannot resolve. The network has repeatedly denied it has not violated the law.
The NTC, in a letter to lawmakers, said allowing ABS-CBN to operate beyond its expired license would encroach on Congress' exclusive right over legislative franchises.
In the same letter, the NTC said the Solicitor General had warned the agency that its issuance of a provisional authority would make its members liable for criminal prosecution.
The commission issued cease-and-desist orders to "many stations" in 2019 for operating without a franchise or license, Cordoba added.
“During the 2019 elections we issued cease-and-desist orders because most of these illegal stations cropped up and started operations without franchise or license during elections… madami po 'yun (there were a lot),” he said.
Some 5 to 10 members of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas continued their operations despite expiring or expired franchises, its president Ruperto Nicdao said.
The Senate committee tackled a measure proposed by Sen. Franklin Drilon that would amend the Revised Administrative Code to state that the franchise of firms applying for its renewal would not expire until its application was finally determined by the appropriate agency or branch of government.
“The bill would fill the gap in cases where a franchise has expired while its renewal remains pending. Congress has applied considerations of equity in previous similar situations and this measure seeks to institutionalize that practice,” Drilon said in his opening speech.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who served as a resource person at the hearing, said he supports the need for such an amendment.
Carpio sees ABS-CBN's shutdown as an “exception” considering that other networks and public utilities with expired licenses were allowed by the NTC to operate.
“It will remove the unequal protection of the law that currently exists in the renewal of franchises by Congress… In the past, all franchisees with pending franchises for renewal in Congress have been allowed to continue operating even if their franchises have expired in the meantime," he said.
"The only exception appears to be ABS-CBN, like it violates the equal protection law."
The bill is timely to address the plight of the network's 11,000 workers, said committee chair Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
"At this point, 2.2 million more have already lost their jobs because of the lockdown. Siyempre maliwanag pa sa sikat ng araw, mas mahirap maghanap ng trabaho sa ganitong sitwasyon,” he said.
(Of course it's clear that it's hard to find a job in this situation.)
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