MANILA — Regulators should investigate at least 15 broadcast companies that allegedly remain on air even though their franchises have already expired, a lawmaker said Wednesday during a joint House hearing into ABS-CBN Corp's application for a fresh license.
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on May 5 forced ABS-CBN to go off the air after its franchise expired the day before. The regulator in March had told lawmakers that it would allow the network to operate beyond May 4 while bills for its franchise renewal were pending before Congress.
"It caught my attention that there are more than 15 broadcasting companies that are still continuously on air even though their franchises are already expired since 2015, 2016, 2017 and so on," said Nueva Ecija 2nd District Rep Micaela Violago.
These companies could be violating a labor or tax laws, she said, without naming the media outfits.
"Dapat maging patas ang proseso natin so may I ask the NTC to make a proper action regarding this matter," said Violago.
"Sana po ay makita rin natin ito para maging patas tayo sa paningin po ng sambayanang Pilipino na wala po tayong, sabi nga, kinikilingan na anumang broadcasting company," she added.
(Our process should be fair so may I ask the NTC to make a proper action regarding this matter. I hope we can also look into this so we will be fair in the eyes of the Filipino public, so that we can show that we are not siding with any broadcasting company.)
Violago said she made the manifestation "not because I am pro- or anti-ABS-CBN, but in aid of legislation."
House Committee on Good Government chairperson Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado urged Violago to file a resolution on her suggestion.
In a statement on Wednesday, Sen. Sonny Angara said it's "very unfair given the treatment of other franchise holders whose franchises expired and were allowed to operate while their applications were pending with Congress."
"Also really terrible timing given the economic situation with record unemployment. It's sad to see government treat working people this way. There aren't many jobs out there waiting for the people who lose their jobs, not only those directly employed by ABS but even those who provide them with services and goods," he said.
NTC 'DISCRIMINATED' VS ABS-CBN: CARPIO
Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio earlier said the NTC violated ABS-CBN's right to equal protection when it issued an order stopping the network's broadcast operations.
"This is the first time that the NTC issued a CDO to a broadcast company upon expiration of its franchise while pending renewal in Congress," Carpio said in a column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer in May.
"In the past, broadcast and telecommunications companies were never issued CDOs even if their franchises expired while pending renewal in Congress," he added.
He cited 3 companies that were allowed to operate beyond the expiry of their franchise, namely:
- Vanguard Radio Network, whose franchise expired on June 13, 2017 but renewed on Oct. 30, 2018;
- Catholic Media Network, whose franchise expired on Aug. 4, 2017 but renewed on April 22, 2019;
- Isla Communications Company, whose franchise expired on May 6, 2017 but renewed on Dec. 14, 2018.
"The NTC obviously discriminated unfairly against ABS-CBN, denying ABS-CBN its constitutional right to equal protection of the law," Carpio said.
ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak on Monday's House hearing appealed for "fairness" from Congress, saying legislators in the past allowed other media companies to continue operations while their applications for a new franchise were pending.
"Ang appeal po namin sa Kongreso (our appeal to Congress) is in the spirit of fairness, please consider that you have allowed other companies to operate before even after their franchises had expired for so long as Congress continues to hear their application for renewal," Katigbak said.
However, the NTC the next day shut down ABS-CBN’s digital broadcast on TVPlus in Metro Manila and SKY’s direct-to-home satellite broadcast nationwide, saying the 2 platforms were included in its May 5 cease and desist order.
news.abs-cbn.com is the official news website of ABS-CBN Corp.