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Lawmakers question NTC order for ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting

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Lawmakers question NTC order for ABS-CBN to stop broadcasting
The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC) ordered a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN Corp. after the expiration of the latter's congressional franchise, whose renewal President Duterte often threatened to block.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers and journalists on Tuesday questioned the cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission against broadcast giant ABS-CBN Corp. despite previously saying it was ready to issue a provisional authority.

Rep. Franz Alvarez (Palawan, 1st District), who chairs the House committee on legislative franchises, said that NTC would be slapped with a show-cause order for them to explain their abandonment of the commitments they made to allow ABS-CBN to continue operating while its franchise is pending in Congress.

This came after Solicitor General Jose Calida—who earlier petitioned the Supreme Court to revoke the company's franchise—said the NTC may face graft charges if it issues a provisional authority.

The cease and desist order against the media network comes days removed from World Press Freedom Day and on the seventh week of enhanced community quarantine due to the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).  

"If the NTC chooses to succumb to the pressure of the Solicitor General, and disregard the commitments they gave under oath, we reserve the right to call them before Congress and explain why they should not be held in contempt," Alvarez said in a statement.

For her part, Sen. Risa Hontiveros told reporters in a mix of Filipino and English: "We need more, not fewer voices of responsible media and press especially in a time of pandemic where our people need complete information."

Sen. Bong Revilla, who chairs the Senate committee on public information and mass media, said that the shutdown could have been avoided if Congress had acted on bills on the network's franchise sooner. 

"The NTC says that the Senate Resolution and the Chamber's letter are sufficient to give ABS-CBN a provisional authority, then this happens. It is a pity for the thousands of ABS-CBN workers to be unemployed," Revilla said in a statement. 

In a tweet, Sen. Sonny Angara also said that it was "[p]robably not a good move to shut down a prime source of reliable information when our people need it most."

For his part, Rep. Lawrence Fortun (Agusan del Norte 1st District), who co-authored one of many House resolutions supporting the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise, echoed their sentiments, saying the NTC could still take back its decision and vowing that Congress would assert its constitutional authority. 

"NTC has chosen to blatantly disregard the constitutional authority and prerogative of Congress on legislative franchises. This is a grave affront to both Houses of Congress where the NTC appeared in separate hearings and made a clear commitment to issue a provisional authority if there is clear and categorical advice from us of our intent to allow provisional operation pending renewal of the subject franchises," he said. 

"This will go down in history as the worst action of this agency in gross and wanton disregard of the expressed intent of Congress, its impact on press freedom and the plight of thousands of workers especially in this time of great crisis," he added. 

In response to Calida's earlier warning to the NTC, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, which announced shortly after news broke that it would be holding an online rally, said in a statement that "It would do no good to the Filipino people if the country’s biggest media corporation, one that is relied upon by a great number of the people during this pandemic for news, entertainment and relief delivery, if it ceases operations tomorrow."

"Is the government so blinded by its chief executive’s hatred of an entity that it dares to flaunt our nation’s collective sense of fair play, due process, and common good when the entire country grapples with a problem infinitely more pressing and dangerous?" they added. 

The Palace has denied that Duterte's ire for the media network was motivated by any political vendetta given the separation of powers between the two branches, though the chief executive has slammed them multiple times, even threatening to block their franchise renewal altogether over what he said was their biased reportage of the government.

"All the president wants is fair reporting. If you are bad towards the president, he will treat you worse," Sen. Go, former presidential aide, was quoted as saying in the Senate hearing tackling issues on the network's franchise. — Franco Luna  

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