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BREAKING: NTC: We regret failing to notify Congress on stop order vs ABS-CBN

/ 03:20 PM May 14, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Officials of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) on Thursday admitted they should have alerted Congress of their “inability based on legal grounds” to issue a provisional authority (PA) to ABS-CBN Corp.

In a letter addressed to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Palawan 1st District Rep. Franz Alvarez, chair of the House committee on legislative franchises, the NTC officials said that “Constitution, the laws, and jurisprudence, provided insurmountable obstacles to the issuance of a PA, notwithstanding equitable considerations.”

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The letter was in response to the show cause order earlier issued by Alvarez against the four NTC officials namely, Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, Deputy Commissioner Edgardo Cabarios, Deputy Commissioner Delilah Deles, and Legal Branch Head Ella Blanca Lopez, to explain why they should not be cited in contempt after the commission directed media giant ABS-CBN to stop its broadcast operations.

To recall, Cordoba told members of the House in March that they will follow the advice of the Department of Justice (DOJ), allowing ABS-CBN to operate beyond the lapse of its franchise on May 4 while its franchise renewal bid is pending in Congress.

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“Nonetheless, we regret failing to notify you, the Honorable Speaker, and the House of Representatives, and in particular the Chairperson and members of the Committee on Legislative Franchise, of our decision to issue a CDO against ABS-CBN following the expiration of its franchise last 4 May 2020,” the NTC officials said in the letter.

“We are deeply saddened as well for the inconvenience we may have caused Congress. Again, we express our contriteness and sincere apologies for the ensuing confusion this has caused, not the least because we are in the midst of a crisis,” they added.

The NTC officials said they understand if the cease and desist order they issued against ABS-CBN took Congress by surprise given their earlier pronouncement on issuing a provisional authority to the network.

“The representation was made upon the good faith belief that the issuance of the PA by the NTC provided the best possible solution at that time,” the officials explained.

“NTC could have thus exercised more openness and prudence under the circumstances and, at the very least, alerted Congress of NTC’s inability based on legal grounds to issue the PA as well as its subsequent decision to issue a CDO when the franchise of ABS-CBN expired,” they added.

Not to disrespect Congress

The officials further said it is NTC’s “full respect and recognition for Congress’ sole prerogatives” that led them to not issue the interim authority to ABS-CBN as they argued that it was “legally bound” to issue the cease and desist order to the media network giant.

“Please rest assured that we intended no disrespect whatsoever towards Congress,” the officials said.

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They explained that NTC has “rigorously sifted” various legal arguments, opinions of legal luminaries, stakeholders, and concerns of other sectors, on how to legally support the issuance of a PA to ABS-CBN.

“The NTC also considered the Comment submitted by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in a petition pending before the Supreme Court as the ‘statutory counsel’ of the NTC, as well as the letter dated 30 April 2020 that it sent the NTC, both vigorously asserting that the positions taken by the DOJ, the Senate, and the Congress supporting the issuance of a PA were contrary to the Constitution, the law, and jurisprudence which vested upon Congress the sole power to grant or renew a franchise,” the officials said.

“Correspondingly, the OSG cautioned the NTC that its issuance of the PA would make its members liable for criminal prosecution,” they added.

The officials insisted the issuance of a PA to ABS-CBN would have amounted to an “encroachment into the exclusive domain of Congress.”

“We understand that the licensing power of the NTC may only arise from the necessary delegation of power from the Congress through a law,” the NTC officials said.

“NTC would thus abide by any law passed by Congress which may extend all telecommunication and broadcasting legislative franchises that expired during the public health emergency, if there be any,” they added.

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