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NTC apologizes to Congress, but defends order vs ABS-CBN
In a letter to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and committee on legislative franchises chairman Franz Alvarez, the NTC said it intended no disrespect to Congress when it issued the cease and desist order against ABS-CBN, as opposed to an earlier commitment of issuing a provisional authority.
STAR/Michael Varcas, file

NTC apologizes to Congress, but defends order vs ABS-CBN

Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star) - May 15, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has apologized to lawmakers for catching them by surprise when it ordered broadcast giant ABS-CBN to immediately shut down its operations last week.

In a letter to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and committee on legislative franchises chairman Franz Alvarez, the NTC said it intended no disrespect to Congress when it issued the cease and desist order against ABS-CBN, as opposed to an earlier commitment of issuing a provisional authority.

“We regret for failing to notify you, the Honorable Speaker and the House of Representatives and, in particular, the chairperson and members of the committee on legislative franchise, of our decision to issue a CDO against ABS-CBN following the expiration of its franchise last May 4. We are deeply saddened as well for the inconvenience we may have caused Congress. Again, we express our contriteness and sincere apologies for the ensuing confusion this has caused, not the least because we are in the midst of a crisis,” the letter read in part.

The House committee on legislative franchises on Monday ordered the NTC officials to explain satisfactorily in 72 hours their reason for ordering the shutdown, or they would be cited for contempt. The officials earlier promised lawmakers that ABS-CBN would be given a provisional authority to operate pending the renewal of its franchise.

In their letter dated May 12, NTC commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba, deputy commissioners Edgardo Cabarios and Delilah Deles and legal branch head Ella Blanca Lopez explained that the issuance of a provisional authority provided the best possible solution “at that time” and was made “upon the good faith belief.”

However, they pointed out that the issuance of a provisional authority to the network would have amounted to an encroachment into the exclusive domain of Congress.

“NTC could have thus exercised more openness and prudence under the circumstances and, at the very least, alerted Congress of NTC’s inability based on legal grounds to issue the (provisional authority) as well as its subsequent decision to issue a CDO when the franchise of ABS-CBN expired,” the letter also read.

“We understand that the licensing power of the NTC may only arise from the necessary delegation of power from the Congress through a law. NTC would thus abide by any law passed by Congress which may extend all telecommunications and broadcasting legislative franchises that expired during the public health emergency, if there be any,” it added.

Alvarez said the NTC officials would be informed of the committee’s action.

“The committee shall duly consider the officials’ explanation and the apology contained therein in resolving whether or not they should be held in contempt. We shall advise the NTC in due course of the committee’s actions with regard to the foregoing matters,” he added.

As the House approved HB 6732 that allows ABS-CBN to operate until Oct. 31, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano stressed that the network would still be made to answer during the hearings of the legislative franchises committee for alleged violations.

“There are grave issues against the network. These include alleged violations of labor, tax and even constitutional law… I have not wavered that the network has to be held accountable. But true accountability can only flow from fair and thorough hearings,” Cayetano said.

“Both the House of Representatives and the Senate will hear the issues being raised for and against the renewal, and assess, with complete impartiality and fairness, whether or not the network shall be granted a franchise for another 25 years. We cannot, in good conscience, sweep the accusations under the rug and proceed as if nothing happened,” he added.

ABS-CBN signified, in a statement, its readiness to answer all the issues raised against the company and assured its full cooperation in the process of the franchise renewal.

“We thank the leaders of the House of Representatives and the sponsors of the bill led by Speaker Alan Cayetano and Majority Leader Martin Romualdez for recognizing the role we play in providing for the needs of the people in terms of access to news, information, entertainment and public service at this crucial time,” the statement read.

“We look forward to participating in the process of our franchise renewal and stand ready to respond to the issues that have been raised against the network, its owners, management and employees,” it added.

The network also said that it remains open to opinions and constructive suggestions on how to improve the organization and better serve the public.

As the House is set to transmit HB 6732 on Monday, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who is tasked to preside over the issue, said the Senate would tackle the bill on Tuesday.

But Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri pointed out that 13 senators are pushing for a provisional franchise that would last for two years or until 2022, instead of just until this October.

“I’m sure 13 senators will push for that version to make it more practical and they don’t want to offend the House of Representatives. They might have some compromise,” he said, noting that giving a provisional authority with a short lifespan might be a problem considering that the country is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said allowing the network to go back on air for five months is the “best move.”

“It’s not only the best move, it’s the only move under our Constitution because it’s very clear that only Congress can grant or revoke the franchise of broadcast companies,” he added.  Edu Punay, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Mayen Jaymalin, Christina Mendez

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