This view shows the ABS-CBN network headquarters in Quezon City in the Metro Manila area on May 5, 2020. The Philippines' top broadcaster ABS-CBN on May 5 was ordered off the air over a stalled operating licence renewal, drawing fresh charges that authorities were cracking down on press freedom.
AFP/Maria Tan
Andanar decries 'unfair' international media reporting on Duterte's ties over ABS-CBN closure
( - May 7, 2020 - 11:52am

MANILA, Philippines — Communications Secretary Martin Andanar decried the “unfair” coverage of international media that linked President Rodrigo Duterte to the shutdown of ABS-CBN.

“We decry any claims and assertions associating [Duterte] with the National Telecommunications Commission’s independent and impartial decision to impose a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN Corporation,” Andanar said in a statement Thursday.

“Such claims are bereft of truth and just a rehash of an old malicious imputation to bedevil the President and his administration,” he added.

The closure of the Philippines’ largest broadcasting network hit headlines across the globe. The New York Times, one of the many that reported ABS-CBN’s shutdown, wrote the headline “Leading Philippine Broadcaster, Target of Duterte’s Ire, Forced Off Air.”

ABS-CBN has long been at the receiving end of the Duterte’s tirades, as the president accused the network of biased coverage against the administration and of “swindling” him for failing to air his campaign materials in 2016. He even said he will not renew their franchise, if he had his way, and the network may be better sold off.

But late February this year, Duterte changed tune after the network apologized. He said he “of course” accepts the apology and added that ABS-CBN can just donate the P2.6 million it tried to refund him over the unaired ads.

Congress at fault

Andanar said the shutdown was due to the expiration of the network’s legislative franchise.

Bills for its renewal were stuck at the Duterte allies-dominated House of Representatives until May 4, with House Speaker Alan Cayetano—Duterte’s running mate—saying the franchise renewal bills of the network are not a priority, since there are more important bills to tackle.

Cayetano wrote to NTC to provide ABS-CBN provisional authority to operate pending Congress decision on its franchise. But a day before the franchise expires, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Duterte’s cabinet member, warned the NTC of facing graft charges should it follow through with its earlier commitment.

RELATED: ABS-CBN shutdown on Cayetano — Lagman, Atienza

Andanar said the NTC as a regulatory body is “bounded by the law to decide on and execute any policies and programs that are in accordance to what our Constitution dictates, which is the case in this instance.”

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Wednesday said Calida did not influence the telecommunications regulatory body, while the solicitor general reiterated that its earlier statement was in line with his duty as counsel of the NTC.

Andanar pointed out that the legislative franchise of the network is within the purview of the Congress. “It is, therefore totally unfair and objectionable for some parties and some international media to insist that what happened to the network is due to ‘having incurred the ire’ of the President,” he said.

“This is not an issue of press freedom but an issue regarding the legislative franchise. Democracy, and the free press and the free speech that come with it, is very much alive in the country and effectively protected,” Andanar, a former broadcaster, added.

Roque said Wednesday that Duterte is now "neutral" and administration allies should not vote on the franchise "as they please" as the preesident will "not hold it against them." — Kristine Joy Patag

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