People in this small corner of the internet can paint ABS-CBN all sorts of yellow and have the network of expert Duterte supporters make it go viral, but it will not diminish the truth that what the broadcast network succumbed to was a perverted, diabolical interpretation of law implemented by an army of expert brown-nosers.
We all know that Presidente Rodrigo Duterte has an axe to grind against ABS-CBN and those seeking his good graces are falling all over themselves trying to score bigtime brownie points by doing the broadcast network in.
Several leaders allied of the House of Representatives to President Duterte stalled hearings on bills seeking its legislative franchise.
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Then the Office of the Solicitor General went out of its way to file a Quo Warranto petition against ABS-CBN which many legal luminaries viewed as an over extension of its powers.
AND NOW WE have the National Telecommunications Commission going out of its way to issue a cease and desist order AFTER IT HAD ASSURED THE BROADCAST NETWORK’S CONTINUED OPERATION in February this year.
Never once in the history of the NTC has it ever blocked the operation of any broadcaster whose Congressional Franchise had lapsed and awaited renewal.
Why now? Why ONLY with ABS-CBN?
NTC commissioners have justified this latest Cease and Desist Order (CDO) against ABS-CBN as a move recommended by their legal department. They claim that, in their view, it would be illegal for ABS-CBN to operate and for the regulator to extend any provisional permit to operate because the franchise had lapsed.
Simply put, no franchise, no operation.
This despite the fact that the franchise renewal is being heard in the House of Representatives and soon after in the Senate.
Previously, in the Senate Public Services Committee hearing last February 24, 2020, NTC Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba testified under oath that indeed the regulator had allowed such practice of allowing broadcasters and telecommunications companies to operate despite their franchises having lapsed multiple times in the past.
“Mayroon po kasing mga cases before where nangyari po ay while the legislative process ay umaandar ay nagkaroon po nang pag-end or pag-lapse noong franchise sa mga pending committee bills, for example, of franchises ay tumuloy naman po ito,” Cordoba was recorded as saying.
Cordoba confirmed the various cases detailed by committee chair Senator Grace Poe of lapsed franchises allowed by NTC to operate including TV5, GMA 7, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines and others.
“Sa GMA franchise, March 20, 2017 ang expiration date pero ito ay napirmahan ng April 21, 2017, so nag-lapse rin,” Poe pointed out.
“TV5, ganoon din, December 2018 pero napirmahan ng April 2019; CBCP, nagtapos ng 2017 pero pinirmahan ng 2019, dalawang taon iyon; Subic Broadcasting, nagtapos ng 2017 napirmahan ng 2018; Radio Marine Network, nagtapos ng 2018 pero pinirmahan pa ng 2019; Smart Communications, nagtapos ng 2017 ng March pero pinirmahan ng April 2017; Globe Innove, April 10, 2017 nag-expire pero napirmahan ang kanilang prangkisa December 14, 2018; PT&T, nag- expire ng 2015 pero nag-lapse into law ng 2016.”
Cordoba however turned to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, whose legal opinion he said he is seeking because the Department of Justice (DOJ) is government’s and his agency’s primary legal counsel.
In the same hearing Guevarra pointed out that there is a gap in the law that does not define what happens in case of pending renewal applications in congress, thus a legal principle of “equity” comes into play to fill that gap.
“Equity is the principle by which substantial justice may be a thing in cases where the prescribed or customary forms of ordinary law are inadequate,” Guevarra pointed out in the Senate hearing.
“Considerations of equity have apparently been applied in previous similar situations presented earlier namely, among others, PT&T, SMART Communications, Incorporated, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Incorporation. All of whom were allowed to operate despite expired franchises as long as the application for the renewal of these franchises were lodged with the Congress before the lapse of their term.”
Guevarra further stated that “Congress may authorize the National Telecommunications Commission to issue a provisional authority, subject to such terms and conditions as the NTC may deem fit, to ABS-CBN, and other entities who are similarly situated, authorizing them to continue operating subject to the Congress’s eventual disposition of their renewal applications.”
Both the House of representatives and the Senate had written the NTC to grant ABS-CBN the provisional authority while the franchise renewal is being heard which Cordoba confirmed was adequate.
“Kung ang Senado ang magbigay ng request sa inyo?” Poe asked Cordoba during the hearing, to which he replied: “Then I guess we have basis to do that (grant provisional authority).” Last March 11 2020 went so far as to say that it would allow ABS-CBN up to June 2022 to operate while the current Congress is in session deliberating the station’s franchise renewal after receiving the joint resolutions of both Houses of Congress. NTC Deputy Commissioner Edgario Cabarios publicly announced the issuance of the temporary permit.
Moreover, Anakalusugan Party List Representative Michael Defensor drives home an even more crucial point:
There are members of Congress who find it convenient to agree with the opinion of the Solicitor General and the Presidential Legal Counsel that puts the blame on the House of Representatives for the expiration of the franchise of ABS-CBN.
Frankly, I am baffled by this sentiment.
In the first place, and I say this as the representative of the Anakalusugan Partylist whose main advocacy is the health and welfare of the Filipino people, Congress should be tackling more important issues, instead of a private bill that has been languishing in these chambers for the past two administrations.
This is especially true today as we face a worldwide pandemic that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands around the world. Yet here we are.
Wasting valuable time – all because a few rogue administration officials have taken it upon themselves to subvert the process for their own political ends.
Before we went on recess, the House leadership had already sought – and secured – a consensus among the Senate, the Department of Justice, and the NTC on how to proceed with the franchise hearings.
The commitments given by Commissioner Cordoba were clear and unconditional – they will allow ABS-CBN to continue broadcasting until the application is decided upon.
Then two days before Congress opened the SolGen threatened the NTC with legal action should they complied with their promise.
Still, having full confidence in the DOJ opinion and the NTC’s assurances, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano spoke to the media and assured them that Congress had no intention to close the network without prior due process – including a fair and impartial hearing.
Yesterday Congress was ambushed.
And if we may believe the statements of Sec. Harry Roque, this also caught Malacañang by surprise.
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.
Yet there are still those among us who choose to side with them against the rest of the membership.