NTC shuttered ABS-CBN due to SolGen quo warranto plea
MANILA, Philippines — The cat was finally out of the bag.
The quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida in the Supreme Court, which questioned the validity of ABS-CBN’s franchise, prompted the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to shut down the network, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
Cordoba and other NTC officials had previously played down speculations that Calida had influenced their decision to issue a cease-and-desist order against the network on May 5, a day after its 25-year congressional franchise expired.
In an online hearing presided by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Cordoba admitted anew that the agency had previously allowed other broadcast firms to continue operating even after their franchises had expired.
Letter of the law
The only difference was that in the ABS-CBN case, “a quo warranto was actually filed by the Office of the Solicitor General,” Cordoba said.
“That’s why it [had] become untenable on our part to let [ABS-CBN] continue [broadcasting] because of the clear letter of the law,” he added.
Speaking at the same hearing, retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said shutting down the network clearly flouted the equal protection clause in the 1987 Constitution.
“In the past, all franchisees with pending [applications] for renewal had been allowed to continue operating even if their franchises have expired in the meantime. The only exception appears to be ABS-CBN,” Carpio said.
The hearing was conducted to discuss Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon’s Senate Bill No. 1530, meant to preserve the life of a congressional franchise during the pendency of its renewal in Congress.
Veil of silence
“[A]s franchises are imbued with public service, Congress has the responsibility to act and could not simply hide in the veil of silence, or inaction by serving franchise holders a natural death,” Pangilinan said.
In the House of Representatives, Tuesday’s committee hearings on the network’s franchise renewal ended with a debate on whether Congress should “grant” or “renew” ABS-CBN’s franchise.“Renewal” means the network would be able to retain its prized frequencies, while the “grant” of a new franchise would mean being assigned new frequencies as well.
House legislative franchises committee chair Palawan Rep. Franz Alvarez had ordered the substitution and consolidation of 11 pending bills “renewing” ABS-CBN’s franchise, with a 12th one “granting a franchise” to the network.
Alvarez, however, cut short the debate on whether the network was applying for a new franchise or a renewal, and said the question would be resolved in “succeeding hearings” on the issue.
—With a report from DJ Yap