By Rey Panaligan
Television network ABS-CBN on Thursday afternoon, May 7, asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) from implementing its cease and desist order (CDO) issued on May 5.
The petition, docketed as GR No. 252119, pleaded for a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a writ of preliminary injunction.
It “seeks to nullify and set aside the 5 May 2020 order of the NTC in NTC Adm. Case No. 2020-008, entitled National Telecommunications Commission vs. ABS-CBN Corporation, insofar as it ordered ABS-CBN to ‘immediately cease and desist from operating… radio and television stations’ identified by the NTC….”
A copy of the petition was not immediately available.
It was not known immediately if the petition will be taken up on Friday, May 8, when the SC justices meet via video conferencing online for the retirement ceremony of Associate Justice Andres B. Reyes Jr., who compulsory retires on May 11.
ABS-CBN, which was ordered to comment on the CDO in 10 days, went off air on May 5 hours after it received the order from NTC.
Read more: NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop operations
The television firm’s 1995 congressional franchise expired on May 4. The franchise of its subsidiary, ABS-CBN Convergence, had expired earlier last March 17.
Since 2016, ABS CBN has sought the renewal of its franchise through several bills filed in the House of Representatives. The bills have not been acted upon by the legislators.
In its petition, ABS-CBN told the SC that NTC’s CDO was issued “without any prior notice or hearing in violation of the firm’s right to due process.”
It said that “the right ostensibly sought to be protected by the CDO is the government’s right to regulate the use of frequencies which is done through the issuance of legislative franchises and certificates of public convenience… by the NTC.”
But it said, “this right is not threatened by the continued operation of ABS-CBN, as both the Houses of Congress have already expressed their intent and desire for ABS-CBN to continue its operation while the renewal of its legislative franchise is pending.”
“There is no urgent or paramount necessity for the issuance of a CDO. On the contrary, it is the closure of ABS-CBN that will cause serious and irreparable damage not only to ABS-CBN but, more importantly, to public interest,” it said.
Among other things, the television firm has more than 11,000 employees, from 2016 to 2019 more than P14.3 billion in income taxes have been paid to the government, and the public needs the television firm’s services as the country grapples with coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“The closure of ABS-CBN would, therefore, deprive the public of one of the leading sources of news and entertainment, and would impair the people’s constitutional right to information on matters of public concern,” it said.
It pointed out: “There can be no dispute that ABS-CBN’s right to due process, equal protection of the laws and freedom of speech is guaranteed.”
“Pursuant to such right to due process, ABS-CBN cannot be ordered to cease and desist from operating except in accordance with the requirements provided by law. Its right to equal protection demands that it be accorded the said treatment ass those similarly situated have enjoyed,” it stressed.
ABS-CBN also told the SC that the NTC issued the CDO despite the assurance made by NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba during the hearing of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises last March 10, 2020, that the agency will issue a provisional authority to operate pending renewal of its franchise.
It likewise said the NTC ignored the legal opinion made by the Department of Justice stating that “there is sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their franchise remain pending with Congress.”
At the same time, ABS-CBN said the NTC should have allowed it to continue with its operation like what it had done with other firms in similar situations in the past.
It cited the cases of Vanguard Radio Network, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (Catholic Media Network), Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), Innove Communications (previously Isla Communications Company, Inc.), Smart Communications, Inc. and (formerly Smart Information Technologies, Inc.).
“There is no reason why the same practice should not be applied to ABS-CBN,” it stressed.
Earlier, Solicitor General Jose C. Calida had warned that NTC commissioners can be charged should they allow ABS-CBN to operate despite the expiration of its legislative franchise.