ABS-CBN seeks TRO against closure order | Inquirer News

ABS-CBN seeks TRO against closure order

/ 05:30 AM May 08, 2020

ABS-CBN asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to stop the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) from enforcing its order to shut down the network, saying it would cause “irreparable injury” to the company and its employees and curtail freedom of speech at a time when the nation was grappling with the COVID-19 crisis.

In a 50-page petition, ABS-CBN sought a temporary restraining order while the Supreme Court considered whether to annul the NTC’s “cease-and-desist order” to stop its television and radio broadcast.

It accused the NTC of “bad faith” and “malice” after publicly stating it would abide by the directive of the Senate and the House of Representatives and the legal “guidance” of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to grant it a provisional authority to operate pending Congress’ action on its franchise renewal.


“The public needs the services of ABS-CBN now more than ever, as the country grapples with the effects of COVID-19,” the company told the court.


It said the order violated the public’s right to information “and is necessarily a curtailment of the freedom of speech and of the press.”

NTC under ‘threat’

Aside from providing employment to more than 11,000 workers, ABS-CBN said it was delivering “valuable information and entertainment to millions of Filipinos locked down in their homes.” It said it also raised nearly P237 million for food relief so far.

“To close ABS-CBN now when it is most needed would certainly be detrimental to the public,” it said.

The order issued on May 5, a day after the network’s 25-year franchise lapsed, came two days after Solicitor General Jose Calida warned the NTC commissioners that they risk being sued for graft if they granted ABS-CBN permission to operate while its franchise renewal bid was pending.

“The NTC thus issued the CDO with a threat hanging over its head, made no less by the government’s own lawyer, of prosecution for graft/corruption. Under such climate, the NTC’s impartiality is at best seriously suspect,” ABS-CBN said.

The commission should have deferred to Congress and allowed ABS-CBN to continue operating its television and radio stations, the network insisted.


It said Congress had the authority “to determine ABS-CBN’s rights and obligations until such time that Congress has legislated on the renewal (or nonrenewal) of ABS-CBN’s franchise.”

It quoted NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba as telling the Senate committee on public services on Feb. 24, and the House committee on legislative franchises on March 10 before Congress went into Lenten recess that the NTC would issue a provisional authority for ABS-CBN according to the DOJ’s guidance.

Senators push reopening

At the Senate also on Thursday, a majority of the senators representing both allies of President Duterte and the opposition passed a resolution urging the NTC to reconsider its decision, citing similar legal arguments raised by ABS-CBN.

The closure of the radio-television giant was ill-timed as it added to more people who are out of jobs due to the lockdown, the senators said.

The resolution was signed by Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Senators Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, Sonny Angara, Joel Villanueva, Nancy Binay, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Pia Cayetano, Sherwin Gatchalian and Leila de Lima.

Hontiveros said she was hopeful the NTC would reconsider its order given the “tsunami of negative reactions” it generated.

The closure is a press freedom issue and a “danger signal and warning sign” that if Filipinos allowed freedom of expression to be eroded, other rights could follow, according to Hontiveros.

“If there is one pillar of our rights or freedom that is crippled, other pillars of democracy would also be crippled,” she said.

Sen. Grace Poe, who did not sign the resolution, said the NTC’s move also threatened other media outlets.

“Remember, when you threaten one media outlet or when one media outlet is in jeopardy, this also sends out a signal to others that we better be watching our back, we better be careful and somehow that poses as a threat for others who would like to cover the news fairly,” Poe said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC).


ABS-CBN also pointed to an NTC memorandum order saying that permits to broadcast entities expiring within the quarantine period would be automatically renewed for another 60 days after the end of the government-imposed lockdown.

The company told the Supreme Court that the NTC “deviated from past practice” of allowing broadcast companies to operate pending Congress’ action on the renewal or extension of their franchises, which it said was a violation of its right to equal protection of the laws.

It cited at least five instances when the NTC did not stop other entities despite their expired franchises.

Daily losses

The NTC also violated its right to due process when it issued the shutdown order without notice and hearing “and by ignoring the serious and irreparable damage” inflicted on the company and its employees, ABS-CBN said.

The company disclosed that it was losing P30 million to P35 million every day that it is off the air.

Aside from the immediate loss of advertising revenues, ABS-CBN said it would not be able to pay its debts which would prompt its creditors to require collateral for its loans.

Worse than financial losses was the injury to the public now deprived “of a leading source of news and entertainment, just when it is most needed to disseminate information about the pandemic and uplift the spirits of a nation that has been locked up for weeks,” it said.

Palace: ‘Let’s wait’

Commenting on the petition, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said: “That’s their right. Let’s await the decision of the court.”

He repeated his statement on Wednesday that the President would now be “neutral” on the the network’s franchise renewal.

Mr. Duterte on numerous occasions said he would block the network’s franchise renewal after he had accused ABS-CBN of politicking when it aired a negative propaganda against him and for not airing his campaign advertisement during the 2016 presidential race.

In previous interviews, Roque said Mr. Duterte had accepted the apology of ABS-CBN’s owners.

He said that unless there was “constitutional infirmity” in the franchise bill passed by Congress, he did not believe the President would veto it.

“The President said, ‘I am neutral on that. Just do your job and vote according to your conscience,’” Roque said. “It’s now enough that he now has cleared the air.”

Challenge to Duterte

But Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the President’s “neutrality” was not enough.

He challenged Mr. Duterte to personally tell Congress and the entire nation his position.

“A posture of neutrality is still ambivalent and may not convey the exact message which the House leadership is waiting for,” Lagman said in a statement.

A pronouncement from the President for Congress to act on the franchise application will not only “hasten” the resumption of ABS-CBN’s full operations and assure Filipinos’ access to information and entertainment, but also guarantee the jobs of its workers.

“This unequivocal statement of the President would also quash any lingering suspicion that a hidden agenda is behind the closure of ABS-CBN,” Lagman said, alluding to speculations that a Duterte crony was eyeing to buy the media empire from the Lopez family.

‘Chilling message’

Manila’s apostolic administrator, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, said NTC’s action evoked “a specter of martial law,” a claim that Roque dismissed.

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“It sends the chilling message that news and information outlets should kowtow to those in power or else they will be brought down, just as ABS-CBN,” Pabillo said in a statement. —WITH REPORTS FROM MELVIN GASCON, TINA G. SANTOS, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND JULIE M. AURELIO

TAGS: ABS-CBN, NTC, shutdown, Supreme Court

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