BREAKING: NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop broadcast operations

By: Neil Arwin Mercado – Reporter / @NAMercadoINQ

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Tuesday issued a Cease and Desist Order against ABS-CBN after its legislative franchise expired on May 4.

In an Order dated May 5, the NTC directed ABS-CBN to stop operating its television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide “absent a valid Congressional Franchise required by law.”

NTC cited Republic Act No. 3846 or the Radio Control Law which states that “no person, firm, company, association, or corporation shall construct, install, establish, or operate a radio transmitting station, or radio receiving station used for commercial purposes, or a radio broadcasting station, without having first obtained a franchise therefor from the Congress of the Philippines.”

Thus, with the expiration of the Republic Act. No 7966, which granted ABS-CBN a 25-year franchise to operate its TV and radio broadcasting stations, NTC said that ABS-CBN “no longer has a valid and subsisting congressional franchise as required by Act No. 3846.

“The NTC Regional Offices shall implement the closure order in their respective areas of jurisdiction,” NTC said in a statement.

The order likewise gives ABS-CBN en days from the receipt of the Order to respond as to why the frequencies assigned to the network should not be recalled.

“After receipt of ABS-CBN’s response, the NTC shall schedule the case for hearing at the earls time after he Enhanced Community Quarantine is lifted by the Government,” NTC said.

What happened?

The 11 bills seeking the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN remain pending before the House committee on legislative franchises, the earliest of which, at least in the 18th Congress, was filed in July 2019.

While the bills were pending in the lower chamber, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on numerous occasions assured that ABS-CBN will not shut down its operations even if its franchises lapses.

On May 4, the same day Congress resumed its sessions from their Lenten break, ABS-CBN’s franchise expired.

In assuring that ABS-CBN will continue its operations while Congress tackles the bills seeking its renewal, House leaders banked on the NTC granting the network a provisional authority to operate.

Thus in February, Cayetano and Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez, the franchise committee chair, earlier sent a letter to the NTC enjoining the commission to grant a provisional authority to operate to ABS-CBN effective on May 4, 2020, “until such time that the House of Representatives/Congress has made a decision on its application.”

On March 10, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told members of the House that they will follow the advice of the Department of Justice (DOJ), allowing ABS-CBN to operate while its franchise renewal bid is pending in Congress.

Solicitor General’s opposition

On May 3, Solicitor General Jose Calida, who earlier filed a quo warranto petition against ABS-CBN in a move to have the network’s franchise revoked, warned the NTC against granting provisional authority to ABS-CBN.

According to Calida, NTC could not grant provisional authorities to ABS-CBN Corporation and its affiliate, ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. because it must first secure a franchise from Congress.

Calida said the NTC commissioners could risk subjecting themselves to prosecution under the country’s anti-graft and corruption laws should they issue the “unlawful” provisional authorities to ABS-CBN while not having a franchise.

In response to Calida’s efforts to “pressure” the NTC, Alvarez said that the “Committee on Legislative Franchises will not be dictated upon by any individual or agency as to the manner, schedule, and conduct of its official business.”

Alvarez also posted a warning to NTC: “If the NTC chooses to succumb to the pressure of the Solicitor General, and disregard the commitments they gave under oath, we reserve the right to call them before Congress and explain why they should not be held in contempt.”

Ironically, Alvarez released the statement merely hours before news broke out regarding the cease and desist order against ABS-CBN.

So far, the committee on legislative franchises has only held one hearing—or meeting—to discuss the matter. But during this meeting, no one from ABS-CBN or from the opposition was invited.

Instead, the lawmakers decided to first draft the ground rules for the formal deliberations of the franchise renewal bid of ABS-CBN, which Cayetano earlier deemed to be necessary so that the hearings would not be a “circus.” 

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