Gov't deals fresh blow to ABS-CBN with halt orders vs Sky Cable Direct, TVPlus
File photo shows employees and supporters lighting candles at the gate as the ABS-CBN Corporation office in Quezon City shines the network's colors.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman
Gov't deals fresh blow to ABS-CBN with halt orders vs Sky Cable Direct, TVPlus
Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( - June 30, 2020 - 6:46pm

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 1 7:12 p.m., June 30) — In the middle of its two-month long battle for a franchise to air, broadcast giant ABS-CBN Corp. was slapped by a new stop order by regulators who bowed down to pressure from lawmakers to stop the network’s digital television and satellite services.

This time, regulators wanted Sky Cable Corp.'s Direct broadcast, an ABS-CBN affiliate, as well as the network’s digital terrestrial television in Metro Manila, which covers the TVPlus service, to halt operations, according to separate orders on Tuesday.

“Upon the expiration of (Republic Act) No. 7969, Sky Cable Corporation no longer has a valid and sustaining congressional franchise to install, operate and maintain a Direct Broadcast Satellite Service,” the NTC said, referring to the law that gave Central CATV Inc. — Sky Cable’s former name — a 25-year license to operate.

The order does not cover Sky Cable’s regular cable services, which will continue to provide service and where ABS-CBN channels such as DZMM Teleradyo will continue to air.

NTC officials have not been answering phone calls from reporters for comment. Sky Cable said the firm would comply with NTC's orders.

"Sky Direct's 1.5 million subscribers nationwide, incuding those in remote areas that do not receive television signals, will be deprived of access to channels we carry that bring them news, information, education and entertainment starting tonight...," the company said in a statement.

That said, the new order deals a blow to the Lopez-led network that earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte as early as 2016 for supposedly failing to air his campaign propaganda when he was a presidential candidate. Since then, Duterte has repeatedly said he would object to ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, only for his spokesperson, Harry Roque, to later on say that the president is “neutral” on the issue.

Amid the pandemic when information is vital, ABS-CBN’s free TV and radio channels were abruptly shut down by NTC who succumbed to the pressure from Solicitor General Jose Calida, a Duterte Cabinet member, to go against numerous precedents and disallow ABS-CBN from airing without a valid franchise.

Those precedents, publicly cited in a Senate hearing last February, showed how NTC allowed other TV networks to operate while their franchise renewal bid is being heard by Congress. ABS-CBN has applied for a renewal through numerous bills since 2014, but since Duterte took office in June 2016, lawmakers have delayed hearing their application.

The Lower House had since began hearings, but only after pressure from ABS-CBN’s closure last May. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is scheduled to act on ABS-CBN’s petition for a temporary restraining order against NTC on July 12.

Precedents neglected

The latest NTC orders that shut down Sky Cable Direct and TVPlus services are not covered by the high court petition. Under the current orders, NTC is also asking Sky Cable Direct to “refund all its subscribers those amounts representing unconsumed prepaid loads” and deposits or advance payments. 

At a June 8 House hearing, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba argued that Executive Order 205 signed by late President Corazon Aquino in 1987 to regulate the operation of CATV already removed the requirement for cable operators to apply for legislative franchise before they can operate.

In fact, Cordoba said other cable TV operators are no longer required to submit a legislative franchise to NTC to maintain their broadcast operations.

Under Section 1 of the EO, CATV “shall be open to all citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.” The law granting CATV a legislative franchise was signed on March 30, 1995. 

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