By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Grace Poe on Thursday criticized Solicitor General Jose Calida for “pressuring” the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) into stopping the operations of television network ABS-CBN.
Poe disagreed with Calida who had blamed Congress for the shutdown of the broadcast giant a day after its 25-year legislative franchise expired.
In an interview with ANC, she said the legislative department already gave the go-signal for the NTC to issue a provisional authority for the ABS-CBN’s continued operations.
“If you want to adhere to the strict letter of law, it’s still arguable because there were precedents already. Congress already said we are tackling this, and therefore allow them,” the chair of the Senate committee on public services said.
She reiterated instances when the NTC had granted temporary permits to companies pending their franchise renewal.
“‘Yong CDO ay taliwas sa mga ginagawa nila noon (The CDO runs counter to what they have been doing). This is more an exception to the rule. Because in the past, they were either silent or they just allowed the operations of other franchises that have expired but have their renewal lodged in Congress,” she said.
“Either they (NTC officials) were really duplicitous and deceitful in the hearings, or they were pressured by the letter of SolGen Calida, which for me is quite confu[sing],” Poe said.
Calida, prior to the issuance of the cease and desist order (CDO) against ABS-CBN last May 5, threatened NTC officials with the possible filing of graft charges against them should they grant the network a provisional authority, as they had committed before lawmakers last March.
On Wednesday, ABS-CBN News reported that Calida, despite denying that he influenced the NTC, wrote to its commissioners last April 30 about the repercussions of their plan.
“I myself can’t understand why the Solicitor General, who’s supposed to be defending the government agency, is in fact the one pressuring a government agency and threatening against it,” Poe said.
Poe also noted that the CDO was issued even as the NTC released last March a memorandum extending the validity of permits, certificates, and licenses it issued to radio communications equipment, networks and facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Granted they did not specify franchise, but that’s clearly the point. The focus should be on mass testing (to aid) our fight against the pandemic. So the timing of this is really suspect,” she said, stressing anew the role of media amid the health crisis.
“To NTC, particularly Mr. Commissioner Cordoba…I’m really disappointed about why he had to resort to this order to shut down the operations. They could have reached out to us, and say ‘You know we are unsure about it, so Congress should act,'” Poe said.
While she noted that other media networks are still on the air, Poe agreed that the closure of ABS-CBN would have an effect to press freedom.
“This has a larger impact than just ABS-CBN. This is not just a tragedy for one peron or one company. Trahedya ng lipunan ‘pag nangyari ito sapagkat ‘pag nangyari ito pinapakita natin na pwede nating baluktutin ang batas, para lang maserbisyohan ang layunin ng iilan (This is a tragedy for the whole of society, because this shows that that we can use the law to serve the motives of some),” she said.
“The laws should be used as a tool for fairness and not be used for the caprices of the few. And that’s clearly the SolGen, who’s shouting loud and clear that ABS-CBN has to be shut down. I wonder where’s that coming from,” she added.
She appealed to the NTC not to be threatened by Calida’s statements.
“The NTC should not be afraid of the threat of graft. Because if you believe you are doing the right thing, your case will hold up,” she said.
Read more: NTC orders ABS-CBN to stop operations