Alan Peter blames NTC, vows to fix ABS-CBN mess
Cayetano said the House had banked on this commitment by NTC, which the latter did not fulfill supposedly after Calida threatened commissioners with graft charges if they let ABS-CBN continue operations.
STA/ Boy Santos, file
Alan Peter blames NTC, vows to fix ABS-CBN mess
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday vowed to “fix the mess” spawned by the closure of broadcast giant ABS-CBN by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

Breaking his silence since the network’s shutdown last Tuesday, and after being blamed for the incident by some sectors, Cayetano said the cease and desist order (CDO) issued by the NTC “unnecessarily complicated” the franchise issue and forced the House of Representatives to adjust its priorities instead of just focusing on measures to check the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and ease its impact on livelihood.

He said the NTC and Solicitor General Jose Calida would be made to account for their actions.

“As for the sudden flip-flopping of the NTC and the unconstitutional meddling by the Solicitor General in the business of Congress, I promise you – there will be a reckoning,” he vowed.

“We would have wanted to do this in an orderly manner. But what we want and what we have to deal with are two different things. So this Congress has no choice but to once again rise to the occasion and fix the mess others make,” he declared in a statement.

“For those asking what Congress will do – the answer is simple – our job. The committee on legislative franchises will conduct hearings in a manner that is consistent with what we have always said. That is – fair, impartial, thorough and comprehensive,” Cayetano said.

The panel chaired by Palawan Rep. Chikoy Alvarez is set to hold a hearing on the ABS-CBN franchise issue on Monday with NTC officials expected to be in attendance.

The STAR learned that the committee had scheduled a hearing on franchise bills before the end of this month after passing all needed measures to address the pandemic that the House leadership deemed as more urgent.

But insiders bared that due to the action of the regulatory commission, the House had to adjust its calendar to include the franchise bills in its priorities along with the economic stimulus program as well as “new normal” measures.

No specific date yet has been set for the continuation of hearings that actually started last March 10 before Congress went into Lenten break, during which the NTC had committed to allow ABS-CBN to remain on-air after the expiration of its franchise on May 4.

Cayetano said the House had banked on this commitment by NTC, which the latter did not fulfill supposedly after Calida threatened commissioners with graft charges if they let ABS-CBN continue operations.

“Last March, members of Congress and the whole nation listened to the head of NTC give his word that they would issue a provisional authority that would allow the network to continue broadcasting until we are able to reach a final decision. With this assurance, we wasted no time in addressing the bigger threat facing the country,” he stressed, referring to the passage of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that gave President Duterte special powers to address the COVID-19 crisis. “Last Tuesday we were all ambushed by the NTC.”

Tricked

Cayetano said the commitment of the NTC and the legal opinion of the DOJ led lawmakers into believing that ABS-CBN would be allowed to stay on-air despite the expiration of its franchise.

“Despite their assurance given under oath, despite the legal opinion of the DOJ, despite a resolution from the Senate and several verbal and written assurances given to Congress, the NTC appears to have succumbed to pressure from the Solicitor General and issued a CDO to ABS-CBN,” he lamented.

The Speaker likewise invoked the authority and jurisdiction of the House on the franchise issue after ABS-CBN filed a petition with the Supreme Court questioning the NTC order.

“The exclusive constitutional authority to grant, deny, extend, revoke or modify broadcast franchises – including having the primary jurisdiction to make an initial determination whether an application for a legislative franchise should be granted or denied – still resides in Congress, and Congress alone,” he pointed out.

Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel and Reps. Jonathan Sy-Alvarado and Mike Defensor voiced their support for Cayetano.

Pimentel said the criticisms by Reps. Lito Atienza and Edcel Lagman on the House leadership over ABS-CBN’s closure were unfair.

“I don’t think that’s fair because Congress is a collegial body. Whatever it decides on a subject matter is voted upon by the majority (of House members),” Pimentel said.

He then accused NTC of unfair treatment against ABS-CBN, saying the regulatory body had allowed other entities with expired franchises to continue their operations while lawmakers worked on their franchise renewal.

Alvarado, chair of committee on good government, agreed but appealed for an end to the blame game.

“The 18th Congress only had 10 months so far and that application of ABS-CBN has been there for five years already... In our society, we are really fond of blaming others. If we want to fix something, we better start with ourselves,” the Bulacan representative said.

Defensor, chairman of the public accounts committee, also believed that Calida and NTC are to blame for the shutdown of the network.

“The unconstitutional meddling of the SolGen – to the extent that he pressured the NTC to go against the DOJ, the Senate and their own word given under oath – is a disgrace and an affront to the entire Congress,” Defensor said.

Also yesterday, Defensor filed a resolution seeking legislative inquiry to determine possible criminal and administrative liabilities of NTC officials and Calida.

“This is not finger-pointing or siding with ABS-CBN. We just want to know what happened and who should be held liable for the anomaly in our process,” Defensor stressed.

Voices from Senate

Senators are also pushing for ABS-CBN’s reopening.

“The Filipino people want to see the network back on air. To see is to believe,” Sen. Grace Poe said. “As Senate President (Vicente) Sotto III vowed, the Senate will not waste a moment once the bill reaches the chamber, as this matter is imbued with public interest.”

Sen. Nancy Binay posted yesterday on Twitter: “Reminds of who?” with a caricature of Pontius Pilate, in an apparent dig at Cayetano.

“I don’t see any reason why a provisional authority cannot be given at this time. The assurance given to us both in the House and the Senate was totally demolished, that’s why a lot of us were quite surprised,” Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian told “Agenda” on Cignal TV’s One News.

“Timing is also very important. In this case, the flow of information is very important. ABS-CBN commands a whopping 80 percent of the market. It is virtually in the homes of every Filipino and information flow right now is very important,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Investment House Association of the Philippines (IHAP) has joined calls for government to immediately act on the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp.

“We believe that this action represents a serious challenge to press freedom, an established feature of a democratic society,” IHAP said, referring to the closure order on ABS-CBN.

“The NTC’s action comes at what may be the worst possible time when the country needs to be united against the pandemic,” it said.

“The Philippine economic landscape has been helped greatly by a dynamic financial market which relies on more than one media broadcasting outfit to generate informed choices. Economic and corporate managers thrive under an atmosphere of press freedom and this redounds to the benefit of the country,” IHAP said.

Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto also appealed to President Duterte to reverse the NTC order.

“There are already meetings among authors of the renewal of franchise. I’m hopeful that our President will reverse the order of the NTC,” she said in a text message in Filipino and English.

Taguig City Mayor Lino Cayetano appealed to the NTC to withdraw its order and just let Congress deliberate on ABS-CBN franchise renewal, especially now that the country is dealing with a health crisis. – Paolo Romero, Louella Desiderio, Ghio Ong, Arnell Ozaeta

ABS-CBN ALAN PETER CAYETANO
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