Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, a former justice secretary, said that the cease and desist order (CDO) issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
“The cease and desist order against ABS-CBN is not only a grave abuse of discretion on the part of the NTC, it also infringes on the constitutional guarantee of equal protection,” Drilon said in a statement.
“It is of record and public knowledge that NTC has allowed and is allowing franchisees to operate even after the lapse of their franchises as long as the bills renewing their franchises are pending before Congress,” he explained.
He cited PT&T, SMART Communications, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, TV5, Subic Broadcasting, to name a few, which were allowed to operate despite expired franchises.
“Why was ABS-CBN singled out here?” he asked.
“Bakit hindi nag-issue ng CDO ang NTC sa iba? Ngunit dito sa ABS-CBN ang bilis nilang mag-issue ng CDO. Hindi po patas ang application of the law,” Drilon said in a radio interview over DzRH.
Under the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law nor shall any person be deprived of equal protection of laws. The equal protection of the law clause requires that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike both as to rights and responsibilities imposed.
Under the constitutional principle, similar subjects should not be treated differently as to give undue favor to some and unjustly discriminate against others, according to Drilon. Section 23 of the Public Telecommunications Policy Act, contains an Equality Clause which states that “any advantage, favor privilege or immunity granted to existing franchises shall ipso facto become part of previously granted telecommunications franchises and shall be accorded immediately and unconditionally to the grantees of such franchises.” “By ordering ABS-CBN to stop operations after the lapse of its franchise while allowing other similarly situated to continue to operate, then, clearly, the NTC is placing ABS-CBN in a class of its own, thereby violating the equal protection clause mandated by the Constitution,” Drilon said.
Drilon said NTC’s action is in grave abuse of authority.
“Maliwanag pa po sa sikat ng araw ang pag-aabuso sa kapangyarihan ng NTC dahilan sa hindi equal o patas ang treatment sa ABS-CBN at ibang franchise holders. The law should be implemented equally,” he said.
“It has a ripple effect because other franchisees similarly situated with the ABS-CBN will also have to cease operation eventually. It has negative consequences and far-reaching implications,” he added.
Drilon said that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, all channels of communication should be available to the public, adding the closure of ABS-CBN is a disservice to the Filipino people especially at the height of the pandemic./Stacy Ang