By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Television network ABS-CBN did not deserve the “death penalty” imposed by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for its lack of congressional permit to operate and its alleged violations, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Wednesday.
In a statement, Recto reiterated his belief the issues hurled against the broadcast network do not warrant a closure order from the government, especially in time of a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“ABS-CBN does not deserve death penalty,” he said.
“The last thing we need in this season of death is an issue that rends our people apart when their attention and energy should be focused on fighting our common enemy,” the Senate leader said.
Recto, who filed a bill seeking the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, believes that the cease and desist order against the media giant was untimely as it only adds up to the government’s problems on the effects of the coronavirus outbreak and the quarantine rules put in place to counter its spread.
“At a time when more than 1.6 million of our countrymen have lost their jobs, we should not be putting an additional 11,000 people out of work,” he said.
“At a time when tax collections are down, we should not be shutting down a business which contributes P5 billion in taxes a year,” he added.
“At a time when 66,000 enterprises have stopped operations, we should not be adding to the number of workplace closures,” Recto said..
“At a time when exports are affected, we should be helping a corporation which markets its creative outputs abroad stay afloat.”
“At a time when truth is as important as tests, tracking, and treatment in fighting the virus, we should not be pulling the plug on a giant bullhorn that announces life-saving information. At a time when news, information and entertainment help overcome the helplessness and the boredom felt by a quarantined nation, we should instead be ensuring the free flow of this essential commodity,” he added.
Recto said the NTC should not have used its authority over ABS-CBN like a “remote control device, which by a mere push of a button shuts off a TV.”
NTC officials, he said, should have followed the advice of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and members of Congress that the network should be allowed to operate pending the renewal of its legislative franchise.
Like his colleagues in the Senate, Recto believes that Congress should immediately act on the broadcast company’s franchise renewal application which has been pending in the House of Representatives since 2016.
“The way forward is for NTC to allow ABS-CBN to resume operations, for the House to immediately pass the bill, and for the Senate to ratify the bill once it receives it from the House,” he said.
Recto said ABS-CBN should only be penalized if it indeed committed violations in its operations.
Officials in the executive department, however, said that the network did not breach laws and regulations.
During the February 24 hearing of the Senate committee on public services, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Commisioner Ephyro Luis Amatong said that ABS-CBN did not violate the constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership of mass media, contrary to claims coming from the government.
An official from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) also told senators that ABS-CBN has “regularly” paid its taxes in the past few years.
From 2016 to 2019, ABS-CBN has paid a total of P14,398,464,316.66 in tax liabilities, not including the income tax for 2019, said the BIR.
NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, citing the Guevarra’s opinion, said franchise law covers “commercial purposes” such as the offering of the pay-per-view services and that ABS-CBN’s move to offer a pay-per-view service thru its “Kapamilya Box Office” without the commission’s guidelines, he said, only warrants a fine.
“The remedy for government was to slap it with a fine, a hefty one that hurts the pocket, but not to impose the business equivalent of capital punishment,” Recto said.
Read more: NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop operations