Senate adopts resolution urging NTC to reconsider ‘cease and desist order’ vs. ABS-CBN Corp.

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The Senate has adopted a resolution urging the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to reconsider the cease and desist order it issued against ABS-CBN Corporation last week.

Senate Resolution No. 395 underscored that “there is precedent for entities whose franchises have expired to be allowed to continue to operate, pending the grant of franchise renewal by Congress.”

“The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Broadcast franchise expired on August 4, 2017 and was only renewed on April 22, 2019… Globe Innove’s franchise expired on April 10, 2017 and was only renewed on December 14, 2018. PT&T’s franchise expired in November 2015 and was only renewed on July 21, 2016,” Senate Resolution No. 395 read.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Risa Hontiveros, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Leila De Lima, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, and Joel Villanueva were signatories to the resolution.

On the other hand, nine senators—Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senators Panfilo Lacson, Francis Tolentino, Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Bong Go, Bong Revilla, and Pia Cayetano abstained from voting.

The senators had reiterated that last March that the Senate already adopted Senate Resolution No. 344 which expresses the sense of the chamber that ABS-CBN and its subsidiaries should continue operations pending the deliberation of their franchise renewal.

Cayetano earlier signed Senate Resolution No. 395.

However,  it was later asked to be withdrawn saying that the matter is now in the Supreme Court after ABS-CBN filed a petition.

The NTC also previously said it will heed the advice of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and both houses of Congress to allow the company to continue broadcasting “based on equity.”

However, the NTC reversed its earlier decision and issued a cease and desist order against ABS-CBN after the Office of the Solicitor General, its legal counsel, warned that NTC executives could face graft charges should they allow ABS-CBN and its affiliate to continue operations through provisional authorities after their 25-year franchises lapsed on May 4.

The NTC already denied that Solicitor General Jose Calida’s warning affected its decision, but critics and several politicians doubted the NTC’s statement.

Calida also defended the NTC and said it merely followed the law.

The Palace, for its part, said it will have its hands off the issue as it pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte does not have appellate jurisdiction over NTC and thus cannot order it to reverse its decision.

Meanwhile, in her speech, Senator Risa Hontiveros explained why there is  need for ABS-CBN to resume operations immediately.

“But there is a specific message I want to express today. We are in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. Thousands die from a virus that even health experts do not fully understand. Millions are starving. Millions are losing their jobs and still have no idea what will happen in the next days or weeks. Knowledge is our most important weapon to fight it. Access to accurate and up-to-date information is absolutely crucial in ensuring that the public is a partner in health-enhancing community measures,” said Hontiveros on Senate Resolution No. 395.

“Many say that ABS-CBN has the ability to broadcast on the internet. Yes, that’s right. But many Filipinos still do not have access or a good internet connection. Many have free data and no load buy to watch YouTube or Facebook live. No smartphones, laptops, or tablets. Many are still incapable of subscribing to cable and tied to monthly payments. In remote areas of our country, radio and television are the only source of information for our countrymen. Cutting off this source of information is ill-timed at best, dangerous at worst.”

“It doesn’t just matter that you have access to information. It is important that this information flows from the lake of independent journalism. A free press holds public officials accountable and helps ensure transparency in government processes. This is especially important now that decisions are made quickly and literally life is at stake. A free press also corrects disinformation and misinformation that is rampant today. Fake news is best fought in the marketplace of ideas, where access to information is not restricted and the public is given the right to choose its best source of information. Aren’t these days more necessary for the government to help counter fake news? Why is it closing now?”

“In the midst of the pandemic, institutions that provide important information about COVID-19 are forced to close, but POGOs, forcing a way to reopen even though they are not in the ‘essential’ industries, do not pay proper taxes, The IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines has denied that they belong to the BPO industry and that crime is being brought here in the country. It’s really ‘when there’s a way, when it’s not, there’s a lot of reasons.”

“I believe that these basic principles – access to information, independent journalism – are not only important during the pandemic, they are the pillar of a strong democracy.”

“With thousands of ABS-CBN employees hoping to lose their jobs in the midst of the imminent economic crisis, and with millions of Filipinos already part of ABS-CBN’s life, I advance this resolution,” Hontiveros said./Stacy Ang

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