Government seals ABS-CBN's broadcast shutdown with frequencies recalled

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Government seals ABS-CBN's broadcast shutdown with frequencies recalled
In this photo taken Feb. 14, 2020, ABS-CBN employees, supporters and various rights group gather in front of the ABS-CBN main office in Quezon City to join in the Black Friday protest calling for the renewal of the network’s franchise.
The STAR / Miguel De Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration on Thursday sealed the end of ABS-CBN Corp.’s free broadcast business. 

Nearly two months after ABS-CBN failed to secure a fresh legislative franchise, the National Telecommunications Commission recalled the country’s biggest broadcast network’s frequencies, without which it would not be able to go back on air.

The withdrawal of the frequencies, in turn, sets the stage for government to bid them out to new players or, as some officials have indicated, for the state to use them supposedly to air educational programs that will supplement learning during a pandemic.

“Respondent has no valid franchise to continue operating television and radio broadcasting stations nationwide,” NTC said in its eight-page order.

“Consequentially, absent a valid legislative franchise, the recall of the frequencies assigned to the Respondent is warranted,” it added. ABS-CBN has not issued a statement on the matter as of this posting.

The NTC’s latest decision against the Lopez-led network was expected, but took time to get handed down because, as indicated in the order, regulators waited until the Supreme Court resolved ABS-CBN’s legal challenge against its shutdown last August.

That plea for a halt order was filed last May, shortly after NTC suddenly ordered the network’s closure last May 5, a first since the Marcos dictatorship. The closure happened while the House of Representatives was sitting on ABS-CBN’s application for a fresh 25-year license. 

In effect, regulators then departed from tradition that typically allowed a franchise holder to operate while a new license is being heard in Congress. Public pressure finally forced President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies to hear ABS-CBN’s application, until they ultimately junked it last July 10. 

“Indubitably, the denial of Respondent’s franchise renewal application by Congress, coupled with the denial of Respondent’s Petition by the Supreme Court, lead to no other conclusion except that Respondent had already lost the privilege of installing, operating and maintaining radio broadcasting stations in the country,” NTC explained.

Since then, ABS-CBN has devoted its resources to digital platforms in a bid to stop a financial bleeding of P3.93 billion in losses for the first 6 months. Thousands of workers had been laid off, including those from the provinces where the network’s regional group used to air, while ABS-CBN awaits its shift to the digital landscape to pay off.

On the part of NTC, a bidding for the frequencies could potentially attract heavyweights looking to explore the broadcast business. Earlier, Davao-based tycoon Dennis Uy denied going after ABS-CBN’s frequencies.

The NTC’s new order was made public a few hours after trading at the Philippine Stock Exchange ended. On Thursday, shares in ABS-CBN fell 0.28% to P7.14 each. 

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