NTC apologizes to Congress regarding ABS-CBN shutdown

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The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has apologized to the House of Representatives as it regrets failing to inform the Lower House that it would issue an order telling ABS-CBN to stop its broadcast operations.

The NTC has admitted that it took into consideration the letter sent by the Solicitor General Jose Calida in coming up with the decision to issue a provisional authority or not.

In a letter dated May 12, 2020, the NTC responded to the show cause order issued by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises asking the officials of the commission to explain why they should not be cited in contempt for sending a cease and desist order (CDO) against ABS-CBN.

“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 4 May 2020,” the NTC said in the letter.
“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,” it added.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives had already approved on second reading House Bill 6732, which seeks to grant ABS-CBN a provisional franchise until October 31, 2020

On the other hand, the NTC said  it was because of their full respect and recognition to the sole power of Congress to deal with matters related to legislative franchises that it desisted from issuing a provisional authority to ABS-CBN, and concluded that they were legally bound to issue a cease and desist order.

The NTC earlier made a commitment to the House panel during its March 10 hearing that it would grant ABS-CBN a provisional authority.

“The representation was made upon the good faith belief that the issuance of the PA  (provisional authority) by the NTC provided the best possible solution at that time. Moreover, it was consistent with the legal advice of the Department of Justice, as well as Senate Resolution No. 40 based on equitable considerations,” the NTC  said.

“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 PA (provisional authority) as well as its subsequent decision to issue a CDO when the franchise of ABS-CBN expired,” it added.

The NTC said it considered legal arguments and the opinions of legal luminaries, stakeholders, and other concerned sectors in trying to find a legal basis for the issuance of the provisional authority, including the letter sent by the Office of the Solicitor General.

“The NTC also considered the Comment submitted by the Office of the Solicitor General (“OSG”) in a petition pending before the Supreme Court as the ‘statutory counsel’ of the NTC, as well as the letter dated 30 April 2020 that it sent the NTC, both vigorously asserting that the positions taken by the DOJ, the Senate, and the Congress supporting the issuance of a PA were contrary to the Constitution, the law, and jurisprudence which vested upon Congress the sole power to grant or renew a franchise,” the NTC said.

The OSG had also cautioned the commission that its members would risk criminal prosecution if they issue a provisional authority to ABS-CBN, they said.

Calida earlier warned that NTC commissioners could face Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act charges should they issue ABS-CBN Corp. and its affiliate a provisional authority (PA) to operate after its franchise lapses on May 4, 2020.

“In the end, NTC’s collective assessment was that the Constitution, the laws, and jurisprudence, provided insurmountable obstacles to the issuance of a PA, notwithstanding equitable considerations. If the NTC were to issue a PA, it would have amounted to an encroachment into the exclusive domain of Congress,” the NTC said.

“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 telecommunication and broadcasting legislative franchises that expired during the public health emergency, if there be any,” it added.

House franchise panel chair Franz Alvarez acknowledged the response of the NTC.

“The Committee shall duly consider the officials’ explanation and the apology contained therein in resolving whether or not they should be held in contempt,” Alvarez said.
The panel will likewise consider the NTC’s letter in deliberating on the various House resolutions related to the ABS-CBN franchise, including the one filed by Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte and two other lawmakers to look into the “probable violations” of the TV network of its franchise, Alvarez said.

“We shall advise the NTC in due course of the Committee’s actions with regard to the foregoing matters,” Alvarez said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said, “We want ABS-CBN to be back on air as we know its operation is crucial in ensuring the free flow of life-saving information and in keeping the jobs of thousands of people.”

“However, we want our courses of action to be right – from the bill’s landing at the House plenary to its transmittal to the Senate for our own deliberation – so that we will have a provisional franchise that is legally and constitutionally firm and unassailable.”

“According to the Constitution, Article VI Section 26. (2) No bill passed by either House shall become a law unless it has passed three readings on separate days, and printed copies thereof in its final form have been distributed to its Members three days before its passage, except when the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency,” said  Pangilinan.

“It is within the power of the House to set this right, and soon,” he said.

“Also, the nod of the House and the Senate will also not automatically allow the network to operate as the bill has to pass through the final approval of the President.  While we look forward to the provisional franchise, we hope to tackle in the near future measures granting the network a renewed 25-year franchise to finally resurrect its operations,” said Pangilinan./Stacy Ang

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