‘Arbitrary, insensitive’: Senators condemn NTC order for ABS-CBN shutdown
MANILA, Philippines — Senators lambasted on Tuesday the move of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to order ABS-CBN to stop its operations, adding the move was not only an arbitrary exercise of government power, but also “ill-timed and insensitive,” considering that the country is in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The NTC has issued a cease and desist order against the country’s biggest media network after its 25-year franchise expired on May 4.
This even after the NTC committed to issue a provisional authority to let the network continue its operations while its franchise renewal remains pending in Congress.
“We condemn this arbitrary exercise of governmental power. Ito’y kalokohan. Sa gitna ng pandemya ito (ang) inaatupag ng gobyerno… Stopping ABS-CBN’s operation would cut the income of another 11,000 employees. Wala na bang puso ang pamahalaan?” Senator Francis Pangilinan said in a statement.
“Ito’y panggigipit sa malayang pamamahayag. Issuing a cease and desist order to ABS CBN cripples our ability to disseminate information that can save lives,” he added.
The NTC’s cease and desist order against ABS-CBN also smacks of “grave abuse of discretion,” Pangilinan also said, pointing out that even Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has said provisional authority can be issued by the NTC.
“The NTC action is highly irregular as it has issued hundreds of provisional authorities to other broadcasting companies pending the approval by Congress of their franchise. Singling out ABS-CBN is grave abusive of discretion” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, likewise, said the NTC’s decision not to grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority to operate was “highly irregular.”
“I’m really saddened by the movement of the NTC,” Zubiri said during the Senate’s hybrid session, where he participated through a teleconference.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also expressed concern on shutting down a broadcast network in the middle of a health crisis.
“Given the circumstances, this cease and desist order by the NTC is ill-timed and insensitive to the needs of the public. The delivery of timely and correct information is essential to our COVID-19 response,” she said.
“This shutdown order goes against public welfare,” she added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon stressed that there is enough precedent that a provisional authority can be granted while a renewal of franchise is pending
“(We are) condemning this act of NTC as being totally contrary to law and in grave abuse of discretion,” Drilon, a former justice secretary, said.
Senator Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, meanwhile, said the fate of ABS-CBN’s franchise is now up to the House of Representatives.
This as she assured that her committee, which is tasked to deliberate on bills seeking to renew the franchise of ABS-CBN, will act immediately to resolve the matter.
“I think that the ball is in the court of Congress (House). If they pass the franchise, I think ABS-CBN has 10 days to answer with regards to the cease and desist order of the NTC,” she said.
“So within those 10 days, I don’t know if that’s an impossibility, but certainly if it gets to the Senate I don’t think there’s a problem with us working to resolve this issue immediately,” she added.
Like Poe, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go also said the matter of allowing ABS-CBN to operate after the NTC’s order is now with the lower chamber of Congress.
“There is a bill seeking to renew the franchise of the media corporation now pending before the Lower House. Now that session has already resumed, I am urging the House of Representatives to act on this matter with due haste,” he said in a statement.
“Upon reaching the Senate and once we have had a chance to conduct our own hearings on the matter, that is when I will decide and vote according to my conscience and the interest of the Filipino people,” he added.
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