By Ellson Quismorio
House members on Monday castigated National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba for allegedly being remiss with his job and even raised the possibility of filing a case against him before the Ombudsman for supposedly allowing ABS-CBN to continue airing its programs on its TV Plus digital service.
During the eighth joint House panel hearing on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Mike Defensor called the NTC’s attention as to why the Lopez-owned television and radio network was still able to air its programs on Channel 43, which is used by the Amcara Broadcasting Network.
“Malinaw sa akin (For me it’s clear), it’s a violation of the powers of Congress. It is a violation of our constitutional mandate na tayo lang ang magbibigay ng prangkisa (It is a violation of our constitutional mandate that only we can grant a franchise). This in itself is a usurpation and infringement on the powers of Congress,” Defensor said.
Cavite 7th District Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla echoed this, saying, “Wala hong authority ang ABS-CBN mag-broadcast over TV Plus (ABS-CBN doesn’t have the authority to broadcast over TV Plus) given the fact that the franchise has expired and TV plus is but an extension of the franchise.”
ABS-CBN’s erstwhile 25-year operating franchise lapsed last May 4. The NTC issued a cease and desist order (CDO) against the broadcast giant the next day, afterwhich the latter went off the air from its analog Channel 2 station.
But Cordoba admitted to congressmen that ABS-CBN has continued to operate through its “sister company” Amcara.
“After you issued the CDO, hinihintay niyo lang yung pagkakataon na tanungin namin kayo? Bale may tolerance within your power (Did you just wait for us to ask you about it? So there’s tolerance within your power). You made it your job to allow ABS-CBN to operate without a franchise,” said Remulla, who like Defensor is a vice chairman of the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.
“There’s ground for this committee to file a case with the Ombudsman against Commissioner Cordoba because he has wilfully disobeyed the power of Congress to issue franchises and allowing an entity to operate without a franchise and earn money at the same time.
“Tinignan ko po ang palabas sa TV Plus. Ang daming advertisement. Kumikita siya ng pera, gumaganansya sila ng napakalaki, pero wala silang prangkisa. At ito po ay tinolerate… eight weeks na po yan (I checked the programs of TV Plus. There are so many advertisements. They earn money, they earn huge profits, but they don’t have a franchise. And this has been tolerated… it’s been running for eight weeks). We have a ripe case for the Ombudsman,” the Cavite solon added.
NTC to issue alias cease and desist order
Cordoba, who took part in the proceedings via Zoom, initially responded by saying that NTC would study the issuance of an “alias cease and desist order” on the operation of Channel 43. He said this was the advice given to them by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in a letter they received that same morning.
Asked about the alleged slow action of the regulatory body, Cordona said they simply chose to be more “prudent” although he claimed that the May 5 CDO already covered Channel 43’s operations.
He said they took note of ABS-CBN’s continued airing of shows even after their issuance of the original CDO last May 5, but deferred further action due to network’s decision to challenge the CDO before the Supreme Court (SC).
“Sinigurado po namin na hindi kami magkakamali legally. Kaya po, ang Office of the Solicitor General na aming abogado, ay sumulat po kami sa kanila at binanggit namin ang mga bagay na ito. Sumagot po sila at natanggap po namin kaninang umaga (We made sure that we wouldn’t be legally wrong. That’s why we wrote the Office of the Solicitor General and told them about these things. We only received their answer this morning),” he said.
“Natatakot po kami na kapag kumilos po kami nang mali ay makaapekto po ito sa Supreme Court case na pending po ngayon laban sa amin. Ngayon po ay sumagot na ang SolGen, pwede na po kaming umakto kaya ito po ay aming gagawin (We were concerned that a wrong move would adversely affect the pending Supreme Court case against us. But now that the SolGen has responded, we can now act and that’s what we will do),” he further said.
Cordoba – with the solons breathing down his neck – went as far as to commit to the joint Good Government and Legislative Franchises panel that NTC would issue the alias CDO against Amcara that same afternoon.
Unimpressed by this, Deputy Speaker and SAGIP Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta asked Cordoba to just resign.
“Baka mademanda po kayo sa Ombudsman. Eh ako ang gusto kong mangyari mag-resign na lang po kayo, eh. Kasi pinagtatakpan po ninyo, eh… itigil na lang po natin ang proceedings kung pwede pala mag-operate ang ABS-CBN na walang franchise (You might get sued by the Ombudsman. But as for me, I just want you to resign. Because you hid it from us… let’s just stop these proceedings if ABS-CBN can operate without a franchise anyway),” Marcoleta said.