By Ellson Quismorio
House Committee on Public Accounts chairman, Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor wants the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the Office of the Solicitor General investigated for possible criminal liability in connection with the ABS-CBN franchise brouhaha.
Defensor filed on Friday morning House Resolution (HR) No.846, which seeks a probe on the concerned government officials “for perjury and for violation of the code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees and the anti-graft and corrupt practices act and other applicable laws.”
In a virtual press conference, Defensor said the House inquiry could be carried out by the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, the Committee on Justice, or even the entire House as the Committee on the Whole.
The filing came three days after the NTC issued a cease and desist order against TV and radio giant ABS-CBN, which has since gone off the air. Although the network’s operating franchise lapsed on May 4, the House of Representatives has insisted that only they have the constitutional mandate to decide on the fate of a legislative franchise.
Defensor deplored that the NTC reneged on its commitment to the House Committee on Legislative Franchises last March 10 to issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN to continue its operations, as well as Solicitor General Jose Calida’s April 30 letter to NTC essentially urging the agency to issue the cease and desist order.
“Kailangan magsalita ang OSG at NTC kung bakit ganito nangayari at ganito ang kanilang ginawa (The OSG and NTC should talk and explain why this happened and why they acted this way),” Defensor said.
He said his call for a probe “stems from the orchestrated conduct of the NTC Commissioners and its Officers and the Solicitor General, as they directly subverted the plenary authority of the House of Representatives in its valid exercise of its constitutional authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke or modify broadcast franchises, including having the primary jurisdiction to make an initial determination whether an application for a legislative franchise should be granted or denied.”
“Such contemptuous and criminal acts utterly disrespect not only the Committee on Legislative Franchises but the entire House of Representatives including the Senate, and such brazen and calculated conduct, reeking of an outright conspiracy, has led to the ambush of the House even taking the Senate by surprise,” he said.
The solon said the NTC–which is headed by Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba–could have simply told the Legislative Franchises panel two months ago that it could not grant its request to issue a provisional authority.
That would have prodded the House to explore other courses of action, Defensor noted. “The main point of the issue…umoo kayo…Yun ang mabigat sa Kongreso (You said yes. That’s what’s crucial for Congress).”
As for Calida, Defensor claimed that he exerted “undue influence” on NTC with his 14-page letter.
“Ang nakakagulat yung sulat niya April 30. Sinulatan niya ang NTC at in a way tinakot niya ang NTC na iligal itong gagawin mo, mali itong gagawin mo. Iyon ang tingin kong pagkakamali na parang nagkaroon ng undue influence sa NTC (What’s surprising is the April 30 letter. He wrote the NTC and in a way pressured the NTC by saying that it’s illegal and wrong [to issue a provisional authority]. That, I think, is the error as it seemed to put undue influence on NTC),” he explained.
“This unconstitutional meddling of the Solicitor General resulting in the NTC being unduly influenced and pressured to go against its categorical declarations under oath— supported by the clear legal opinion of the DOJ and the valid exercise of legislative authority by both the House of Representatives and the Senate— is an outright disgrace and an affront to the entire Congress and the DOJ,” Defensor further said.
Aside from directly undermining the constitutional prerogative of Congress, the two agencies’ actions have “resulted in the cessation of operations of ABS-CBN at a very crucial time of the Enhanced Community Quarantine amid the COVID-19 pandemic, where the dissemination of vital information to the public is paramount,” he said.
The Lopez-owned network reportedly has 11,000 employees.
“This is a conspiracy of the lowest and most despicable kind – one that was perpetrated on the nation during a time of crisis, when Filipinos are dying and in desperate need of assistance,” Defensor said. (Ellson A. Quismorio)