MANILA — Recently-appointed Commission on Audit (COA) chairperson Gamaliel Cordoba was confronted by Sen. Risa Hontiveros during his confirmation hearing Wednesday over his participation in the shutdown of ABS-CBN in 2020, which she described as a "continuing injustice."
Prior to his appointment as COA chair last month, Cordoba helmed the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for over a decade.
It was under Cordoba's term that the NTC ordered ABS-CBN to “cease and desist” from broadcasting on television and radio on May 5, 2020, one day after the company’s 25-year operating franchise expired.
During the CA hearing, Hontiveros asked Cordoba to explain what happened to his "promise" during a Congressional hearing that ABS-CBN would be granted a "provisional authority" to operate pending its application for a new franchise.
"And yet, despite your commitment under oath instead of issuing provisional authority, you issued on May 5 2020 a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN to stop operating its various TV and radio broadcasting stations nationwide after pressure from then Solicitor General [Jose] Calida and the chair's predecessor as COA chair," Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros, a former broadcast journalist, reminded Cordoba of the NTC order's impact to the thousands of ABS-CBN workers who lost their jobs in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Paano po kayo pagkakatiwalaan ng publiko at paano pagkakatiwalaan ang integridad ninyo bilang chair ng COA kung nilabag ninyo ang isang commitment na ibinigay ninyo under oath?" Hontiveros asked.
Cordoba said he merely followed the law and apologized to those affected by the ABS-CBN shutdown.
"Of course, kahit po sa legal ay medyo mabigat po sa aming pakiramdam. Kaya nga po during the House hearings noon, ako po ay humingi ng paumanhin sa mga taong naapektuhan dahil ginawa ko lang naman ang aking trabaho at sinunod ko lang naman po ang batas... Gusto ko pong ulitin ngayon, pasensya na po I just had to follow the rule of law," he said.
CA member Sagip party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta, who pushed for the denial of ABS-CBN's franchise, came to Cordoba's defense and questioned Hontiveros' line of questioning.
"With all due respect to the senator, may we know why we are belaboring this issue?" he said, adding that it was not a press freedom issue.
According to Hontiveros, the ABS-CBN shutdown is a "continuing injustice" that has yet to be resolved.
"I am not belaboring, I am raising questions and receiving answers sa mga issues na unresolved. It is not moot and academic, kasi ito po, sa aking hamak na opinyon lamang, ay isang continuing injustice - hindi siya naging win-win situation," Hontiveros said.
"Of course, it is about press freedom," she added.
Sen, Grace Poe backed Hontiveros and highlighted the impact of ABS-CBN's absence on free TV and radio, particularly in the regions outside Metro Manila.
"Not having ABS-CBN, we've lost a good source of news and information. I think our candidate for the chairman of the Commission on Audit will agree. Because they have regional stations and regional offices," she said.
Seventy members of the House of Representatives eventually voted in July 2020 not to grant ABS-CBN a new franchise despite government regulators and other officials clearing the company over allegations of tax fraud and violations of foreign ownership restrictions in mass media, among other legal issues.
Then President Rodrigo Duterte had repeatedly threatened to pull the plug on the network over complaints of partisanship in the 2016 presidential elections.
The CA suspended Cordoba's confirmation hearing and will be scheduled for another round of questioning.
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