By Ben Rosario
House representatives crossed party lines Tuesday as they assailed the National Telecommunications Commission’s (NTC) decision to issue a cease-and-desist order stopping the ABS-CBN network from operating starting Tuesday (May 5), a day after its legislative franchise expired.
House members threw the blame at the NTC, notwithstanding the fact that delayed action on the part of the Lower House has been pointed to as the main reason for the expiration of the network’s franchise.
Only Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman aired a different view about the fate of the Kapamilya network, saying his recommendation for a “seasonable extension of its legislative franchise prior to its extension” is the only remedy to ABS-CBN’s dilemma.
“The solution proffered by the House leadership on the grant of a provisional authority to the network giant by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is contrary to law and jurisprudence, as I have previously explained,” he said.
“Section 16 of RA (Republic Act No.) 7925 clearly provides that ‘No person shall commence or conduct the business of being a public telecommunications entity without first obtaining a franchise.'”
Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Reps. Joey Sarte Salceda (Albay); France Castro (ACT Teachers party-list), and Alfredo Garbin (Ako Bicol party-list) decried the NTC decision as they cited alleged violations of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and Congress authority over legislative franchises by the regulatory agency.
Controversial lawyer Larry Gadon welcomed the NTC decision for observing the “rule of law.”
“The rule of law was upheld by NTC. It is right for everybody to follow what the law says, otherwise, the agency will be giving undue advantages to a private entity which is violative of the anti-graft law,” said Gadon, who had threatened to file criminal charges against the NTC and its officials if an extension was granted by the telecommunications regulator.
The NTC order is a”blow to its independence as a regulatory body,” Zarate said.
He claimed the NTC had apparently “succumbed to the threats of Solicitor General Jose Calida,” who, like Gadon, vowed to go after NTC officials with graft charges if ABS-CBN is allowed to continue operating despite the expiration of its congressional franchise.
Salceda said NTC should have allowed Congress to decide on ABS-CBN’s fate.
“My position on the matter has always been clear: It is the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress to determine whether a broadcast network should be granted the privilege to operate, and whether that privilege should remain,” he said.
Salceda stated: “The NTC action should serve as a warning to Congress that if we do not do our job, the Executive will do it for us, step into any existential void, fill in any power gap guided only by its own narrow worldview of what constitutes national interest.”
Garbin noted that the NTC made a “complete turnaround” of its previous assurance to the Lower House that it will issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN to continue operating while Congress is still working on its franchise extension.
“Finally, I find the order inappropriate and insensitive to the plight of the Filipino people in its fight against the COVID pandemic. ABS-CBN plays a huge role in our fight against the virus, not only in terms of information dissemination, but also in terms of civil society assistance to the government efforts and in securing employment to the thousands of its employees,” Garbin said.
Castro decried the NTC move, saying the telecoms body made its decision notwithstanding the legal and historical grounds that allows the grant of a provisional permit.
“This a major attack against press freedom during a time where the people are demanding for transparency and right information from the government and its policies,” Castro said.
Lagman urged the House leadership to prioritize the “enactment of the long-pending franchise renewal” while Congress is still in session.
“The cessation of ABS-CBN’s operations sounds the death knell of freedom of the press, even as thousands of its employees and indirect workers and enterprises dependent on the broadcasting network are doomed to lose their livelihoods,” he said.