Lawmakers ‘blindsided’ by NTC order on ABS-CBN shutdown, says Poe
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Grace Poe on Thursday said lawmakers were “blindsided” by the cease-and desist order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) against ABS-CBN following its earlier assurance that the network will continue operating pending its franchise renewal.
“I think that we were all really blindsided by the order of the (NTC) because it was against their pronouncements when they were in the Senate,” Poe, chair of the Senate public services committee, said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday.
In a Senate hearing led by Poe last February, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba said that they could issue a provisional authority to allow ABS-CBN to remain on air upon the advice of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and on the principle of equity.
But on Tuesday, the NTC issued its CDO directing ABS-CBN to stop operating its television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide after its 25-year franchise lapsed on May 4.
Poe, however, insisted that there had been several instances where NTC has issued a provisional authority to other companies pending their franchise renewal.
“Ang kanilang ginawa na paghahain ng cease and desist order ay taliwas sa mga ginagawa nila noon… In the past they were either silent or they just allowed the operation of other franchises that have expired but have their renewal lodged in either Congress (House of Representatives) or the Senate,” she pointed out.
“Clearly, it confuses us. Why now is the NTC having this position? Either they were really duplicitous and deceitful in the hearings or they were pressured by the letter of (Solicitor General Jose Calida),” she added.
This, despite the pronouncement of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra that the NTC may allow broadcast companies like ABS-CBN to continue operating while waiting for Congress to renew their franchise.
Guevarra, in his Feb. 26 letter to the NTC chief, noted “sufficient equitable basis to allow broadcast entities to continue operating while the bills for the renewal of their respective franchise remain pending with Congress.”
A few days before the NTC issued its order, Calida had warned the agency against granting the network provisional authority in the absence of a legislative franchise.
Calida even said that the NTC commissioners could risk being prosecuted under the country’s anti-graft and corruption laws should they allow ABS-CBN to continue its operations without a franchise granted by Congress.
Poe questioned Calida’s action to “pressure” the NTC, saying that the government’s chief lawyer should not threaten to sue an agency of the government.
“I myself can’t understand why the Solicitor General, who’s supposed to be defending a government agency, is in fact the one pressuring a government agency and threatening a case against it,” she said.
Poe said the NTC’s move which led to the closure of ABS-CBN should be a “wake-up call” to congressmen to act on their mandate of granting legislative franchises.
“It’s a wake-up call for them that NTC is not adhering to what it professed that it will do based on the opinion of the DOJ,” she said.
In the name of public service
Poe also pointed to the memorandum issued by the NTC which stated that the validity of all existing permits, certificates and licenses issued by the commission and would expire within the period of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) will be extended for 60 days after the end of the government-imposed quarantine.
“Granted that they did not specify franchises, but that’s clearly besides the point at this time when we’re clearly experiencing this pandemic and the focus should be on mass testing, fighting the coronavirus. The timing of this is really suspect,” the senator said.
She further pointed out that the basis of granting legislative franchises “is still public service,” adding that ABS-CBN plays a crucial role in informing the public, especially in the wake of a health crisis.
“Although franchises are given by congressional grace, the basis of this is still public service and what public service is being provided? Number 1: Information. Members of media are frontliners. They’re the ones who cover what’s happening in society, in our country. Right now, they’re helping the government explain regulations of this ECQ,” she said.
Poe added that the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN is now in the hands of the lower chamber of Congress.
Unless approved by the House of Representatives, bills seeking to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise cannot be transmitted to the Senate for consideration.
“Ginawa ng Senado ang lahat ng aming makakaya para sa prangkisang ito, pero hindi namin maibibigay ang prangkisang ito kung hindi ito aaprubahan sa Kongreso (The Senate did what it can for this franchise, but we cannot approve it unless the House approves it first),” Poe said.
“Kaya importante ang mga hakbang ng Kongreso sa mga darating na araw (That’s why the steps to be taken by the House is important),” she said.
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