By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senators on Tuesday expressed their disapproval on the cease and desist order given by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against the ABS-CBN in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NTC’s move to shut down the broadcast network due to its expired legislative franchise was raised during the Senate’s hybrid session Tuesday afternoon.
“I want to express my reservation regarding this because in the time of the virus, people need to be informed by reliable (news) sources, Mr. President,” Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said over video conference.
“This is a time that we need reliable information, and we decide to shut down one of the sources that’s practically in the household of every Filipino? So where does the Filipino get their news now, from the internet where there would be a lot of fake news, or thru texts where there is a lot of spam texts? It’s just a little disappointing on the part of the NTC,” he added.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he understands the point of Angara.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also lamented the NTC’s move, despite the pronouncements of lawmakers and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra that the ABS-CBN should continue to operate pending the renewal of its 25-year franchise.
She also stressed the role of the network in the time of COVID0-19 pandemic.
“We need more not fewer voices of responsible media and press. Rather than fewer lalo na nga po panahon ng pandemic at kailangan ng ating kababayan ng kumpleto at tamang impormasyon tungkol sa paano tayo makakaraos sa krisis na ito,” Hontiveros said.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also reiterated his belief that the cutting off ABS-CBN’s broadcast amid the national health emergency is “highly irregular and improper”, especially that the NTC has historically issued provisional authorities to companies that have pending franchises.
“I’m really saddened by the move of NTC,” he said, advising the TV network to apply for a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court against the NTC directive.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the ABS-CBN may seek the SC’s intervention about the NTC’s “grave abuse of discretion”.
“We join…in condemning the NTC as totally contrary to law and grave abuse of discretion. There’s enough precedent, and the SC itself has said that a provisional authority can be authorized to be issued where the application for renewal of the franchise is pending,” Drilon, also a former Justice secretary, said.
“There is no harm by allowing ABS-CBN to continue broadcasting and it will be to the benefit of the public that information will continue to flow in this time of pandemic,” he added.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services which led the inquiry on the issues hounding the media giant, noted that the “ball is in the court of [House of Representatives] if they pass the franchise.”
“Certainly, if it gets to us, in the Senate, I don’t think there’s a problem with us resolving this issue,” she said..
Poe, however, questioned the NTC for its move as it will also displace thousands of workers.
“Ngayon pa sila magpapasara kung kailan ang daming walang trabaho…At least ito naaalagaan at di dapat sa gobyerno umasa (They will shut down a company at a time when many have already lost jobs. At least ABS-CBN is helping so that less will depend on the government),” she said.
Senate labor committee chair Sen. Joel Villanueva said he was also “shocked” by the development, recalling that NTC officials committed to give the network the temporary permit to operate.
“We were expecting the NTC to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to continue its operations because it has done so previously. The current resolution of NTC is disappointing. To issue this in times of COVID-19 when people need jobs to survive the pandemic is just heartless considering congressional hearings have shown that the station has not violated any law to justify none extension of franchise,” he said in a separate text message to reporters.
Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., who chairs the Senate public information committee, blamed the House of Representatives for this news.
“Ito ang gusto nating iwasan noon nang sabihin nating kailangan aksyunan agad ng Kongreso ang prangkisa. Naiwasan na sana humantong sa ganito,” he said in a statement.
He, on the other hand, slammed the NTC for telling lawmakers that a resolution from Congress would provide sufficient basis to issue a provisional authority.
The Senate, last March 4, adopted a resolution supporting the continued operations of ABS-CBN during the pendency of the network’s franchise renewal.
The resolution was handed to NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios, who committed that they will grant the authority to ABS-CBN.
During the Senate hearings, officials said ABS-CBN committed no violations of laws and regulations, contrary to the claims of Solicitor General Jose Calida.
The NTC issued the cease and desist order after Calida threatened to prosecute them should they allow the operations of ABS-CBN.
Read more: NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop operations